TV Reviews

Reviews of The Power of the Doctor, Halloween Ends, and The Devil’s Hour

Over the week leading up to Halloween, I watched three things that provoked lots of feelings, shall we say. Therefore, I thought I’d pull together a review of all three.

They were the following (and if you want to skip to the review you’re most interested in, here are some links):

Let’s start with the bad.

Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor

What a piece of shite this was. If that’s harsher than normal about one of my favourite shows, it’s because I went into this episode with high expectations. Unlike many Whovians, I haven’t hated Chris Chibnall’s era. I have thought it very hit and miss. I liked some of his back-to-basics monster fighting a lot more than all the abstract metaphysical fairy tale nonsense of Moffat’s later years. And I think the Timeless Child retcon was inspired, too.

But for all the good stories, there have been some pretty epic clunkers. Overly simplistic plots that made me yearn for the too-complex Moffat days. And The Power of the Doctor was so condescendingly simple and unoriginal that it felt like a six-year-old came up with it for their school homework.

At first glance, “simple” doesn’t seem like an accurate description of an episode that has famous historic paintings being defaced, strange activity going on in volcanos, seismologists going missing, Cybermen chasing a bullet train with mysterious cargo across space, a kidnapped child that turns out to be sentient energy, a Dalek warning of a plot to destroy Earth, and the Master impersonating Rasputin in 1916 St Petersburg.

But the thing is, what do all these things amount to? Sweet FA. Why is the Master Rasputin? We never find out. Only reason I can see is so Sacha Dhawan can dance to Boney M. Why is half the story set in 1916? The historic setting has zero bearing on anything. Why are paintings being defaced? No reason apart from the Master trying to get the Doctor’s attention or some such flimsy bullshit. What’s going on in the volcanos? Not a lot. The Daleks want to blow them up. What’s going down at UNIT? The Cybermen have invaded and want to convert us all like always. The one original idea on display here—the sentient energy being—is the one that never gets explored. Its purpose in the story is simply to serve the Cybermen in helping to convert humanity.

So, when you break it down, none of this is actual plot. It’s window dressing. The plot itself is thinner than a piece of floss, it’s just been padded out with colourful fluff and a whole horde of manipulative cameos. But it’s polish for a turd. All that’s going on here is that the Master wants to kill the Doctor (again), the Cybermen want to convert humanity (again), and the Daleks want to destroy Earth (again).

The returning companions, the cameos from former Doctors, and the scenes between the former Doctors and their old companions are all great, but they’re utterly wasted in this nothing story. Why on earth was there no follow-up on the Timeless Child? Or the Division? Or the Flux? These were key elements of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era and they were all ignored. Perhaps it was because this episode was an ‘extra’ ordered by the BBC to celebrate its centenary. In effect, it’s tacked on. And tacked on is certainly how it feels.

Even Thirteen’s regeneration was handled like an afterthought. All the Doctors of the revived era have gone down fighting or being heroic and saving people. Thirteen gets shot by the sentient energy creature because the Master distracts it. It’s a pants way for the first female Doctor to go.

Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends made me a lot happier than The Power of the Doctor. Although, looking at what the Halloween fanbase are saying about this movie, I could be in the minority.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Halloween (2018). I thought it was predictable, the characters and the dialogue were forced and at times inauthentic, and I didn’t think Laurie Strode was particularly likeable. And as what was essentially a redo of Halloween H20 (just, you know, forty years later instead of twenty), it paled in comparison. Halloween Kills was better, less predictable, and I liked the flashbacks to 1978.

Halloween H20 will probably always be my favourite because of its hip, Scream-esque vibe and dialogue, and because Laurie is great and the ending is kick-ass. But Halloween Ends is now a close second. Why? Because it was something goddamn different. It wasn’t just Michael Myers returning again to stalk and kill people in Haddonfield. For the first part of the movie, the focus is on someone else: a teenager called Corey Cunningham who gets vilified by the town for causing the (accidental) death of the kid he was babysitting. We watch as Corey spirals and becomes a killer. And the film asks questions about whether circumstances made this boy evil, or whether he’s always been that way.

By ignoring all the elements said to drive Michael in the previous movies (like curses and childhood trauma), this new trilogy suggests that Michael Myers is an example of the former: he’s always been evil. But a question mark sits over the nature of Corey’s evil the entire movie. Michael comes into the story when Corey encounters him in a weakened state in the sewers and there’s a very interesting scene where Corey lures Allyson’s ex-boyfriend there and Michael ‘recharges’ by killing him. Laurie said in Halloween Kills that Michael feeds off killing, almost supernaturally. There have been a few occasions over the course of this trilogy that have subtly suggested that Michael is the embodiment of a supernatural evil, and this scene is probably the most overt. After this, Corey and Michael start killing together.

It all leads to a big showdown between Laurie, Allyson, Corey and Michael that’s way more interesting than the one in Halloween (2018) and ultimately more satisfying. It echoes the ending of Halloween H20 when Laurie has to make sure Michael is dead and can’t come back. In H20, Laurie chopped Michael’s head off. Here, she pushes him into an industrial shredder—even more definitive. And I liked that the whole town, poisoned by Michael’s evil, went with Laurie to do it.

Halloween Ends is not your typical Halloween movie, and is all the stronger for it. People have been criticising it because they wanted more Michael, not Corey. The thing is, how much more can we watch of a motiveless killer with a deliberately unexplored mystique walking about killing people? Here’s the thing. Plot-wise, there’s not much you can do with Michael Myers. And I’m glad Halloween Ends was something different, not just more of the same. I like plot with my horror, so thank you, Halloween Ends, for providing some at last.

The Devil’s Hour

If Halloween Ends made me happy, The Devil’s Hour made me overjoyed. This six-part British series is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time, and certainly one of the best TV series the UK has ever made.

It’s one of those complex mixed-genre stories that’s right up my street—part detective thriller, part sci-fi mystery, part family drama, part haunted house horror. It follows Jessica Raine’s Lucy Chambers, a social worker with a son, Isaac, who has behavioural problems, i.e. he’s an emotionless automaton. Meanwhile the police are chasing a killer and Lucy is having flashes and premonitions about each death. She starts using her knowledge to assist the police but realises that something about her premonitions is off. The murders are happening differently, as though she’s seeing an alternate timeline or reality. And then Isaac goes missing.

This series goes in so many different directions and is fascinatingly unpredictable. The final reveals about Lucy, Isaac, and Peter Capaldi’s character are all really complex and satisfying. I also loved the slow reveal of who the real villain is in this story. And while Peter Capaldi is getting a lot of the credit for playing the engaging and mysterious anti-hero at the centre of everything, it’s Jessica Raine who carries this. And Nikesh Patel as an ironically gore-phobic homicide detective is brilliant too. Despite the focus on Capaldi in all the marketing materials (likely because he’s the bigger star), he’s not actually in the first four episodes that much. Raine is the real star here.

And the ending is a corker. It sets up so many captivating places this series could go in future seasons (and apparently there is a plan for two more). But even if it isn’t successful enough for Amazon to renew it, The Devil’s Hour works well as a standalone. Excellent stuff.

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