Thursday, 27 May 2010

Arabian Delights

12A – 116mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Boaz Yarkin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard
Screenstory and videogame by: Jordan Mechner
Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell, Reece Ritchie, Ronald Pickup

Another media-hopping blockbuster videogame adaptation from the director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, produced by the man behind Pirates of the Caribbean and looking distinctly Mummy-like in tone? To say I went into Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time open-minded but hardly optimistic of anything approaching originality, is an understatement. And yet, upon leaving the cinema, I had to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed this swiftly-paced medieval fantasy adventure; even if you have to take hulked-up leading man Jake Gyllenhaal’s uneven accent with a giant pinch of, err, sand…

The man that was Donnie Darko is now the adopted and energetic Prince Dastan (an absolute spit of his pixelated counterpart), a former street urchin with a penchant for basejumping and disobeying his older brother’s orders regarding an attack on Princess Tamina’s (Gemma Arteton, who needn’t have bothered changed out of her Clash of the Titans wardrobe) innocent city. Framed for his father – the King’s (Ronald Pickup) – murder, Dastan and the cagey Tamina go on the run to prove his innocence and uncover the truth behind the dastardly plot to steal the mystical Dagger of Time and rule the world…

Opening on a map of the ancient world, overlaid with grandiose “A long time ago in lands far away” narration and an Arabian-stringed score from Harry Gregson-Williams, I feared clichĂ© overload, however as the energetic action picks up and you aren’t sure who to trust, the film bucks formula and genuinely surprises on a number of occasions, twisting and turning like a snake up your sleeve. All of the supporting cast are a joy to watch, particularly Richard Coupling Coyle as Prince Tas, who really steps up well from sitcom funnyman, shadowy Ben Kinsley as nobleman Uncle Nizam, and a truly hilarious turn from an almost recognisable Alfred Molina as the likeable scoundrel Sheik Amar, who makes his money from racing ostriches!

Sure, some of the dialogue is a touch ropey and the screenplay is crammed with repeated exposition, but what do you expect from a film about a mystical dagger with the godly ability to rewind time? It hardly speaks for itself! At other times the script positively zings with likeable banter between the eye-candy leads, and Molina keeps the laughs coming simply by "talking too much" as his frustration mounts and he gets unwillingly dragged along on the dangerous mission.

The zooming and swooping camerawork, as well as an irritating application of slow-motion to add a sense of the dramatic to the swashbuckling battle scenes, do take some getting used to, but I guess they are merely a by-product of the film’s flashy, videogame origins. Thankfully both techniques are not used excessively and you are granted a good gawp at the gorgeous landscapes and ancient bazaars. The film also doesn’t overindulge on CGI or ludicrously monstrous foes (Stephen Sommers, take note), aside from the impressive depiction of the dagger’s released sand swirling, magicking and reversing the flow of time. It’s a refreshingly muted decision for a big-money blockbuster, allowing for the jamboree of characters to shine through, provided you can get past Jake’s dubious enunciation…

CR@B Verdict: Prince of Persia is a startling jewel in the rough landscape of videogame adaps. It is harmless, easily accessible popcorn fun, even to the generation who think a platformer is a type of shoe and a joystick is, well, very rude indeed…

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

New “Who” Review Run-through

Greetings most patient CR@B fans! My tardiness with recent Doctor Who reviews hasn’t been through sheer laziness, cross my claws and hope to fry! A busy period at work followed by a holiday in Cyprus (oooh, get me!) has left me trailing behind the UK transmission dates somewhat (hey, a CR@B’s gotta get some downtime!!), so in the interest of getting back up to speed, here are three slim-line reviews of episodes 5.6, 5.7 and 5.8…

BBC One – 8/5/2010 – 6:00pm
Written by: Toby Whithouse
Directed by: Jonny Campbell

Following Amy’s (Karen Gillan) impassioned pass at the Doctor (Matt Smith) at the close of “Flesh and Stone”, the Time Lord turned Cupid in “The Vampires of Venice” by popping out of a giant cake and whisking Amy’s estranged earth-bound fiancĂ© Rory (Arthur Darvill) away from his Stag do and on a romance-rekindling date to Venice . In 1580. “It’s this or tokens!” quipped the Doctor, again on fine bantering form in another witty, humorous, historical romp with added, err, bite. Well this episode was written by the creator of ace supernatural drama Being Human, so what did you expect: Gondolas and Piazzas?

You see, “Venice” in the sixteenth century – in actuality Croatia in 2010, providing a marvellously believable (and cheaper) stand in – is experiencing a problem with a “plague”, transforming the gifted female students of Rosanna Calvierri’s (Helen McCrory) exclusive “school” into light-opposed, fang-sprouting, blood-loving “vampires”. If you think I’m overusing the punctuation marks then that’s because the whole operation is a perception-filter aided cover for a race of “fish people from space”, on the run through time from their dying world. Their “masterful” plan? To breed the transformed gills– sorry, girls, with the surviving males of their scaly species, who are waiting impatiently in the waters of Venice , before flooding the city so they may thrive again.

It was (intentionally?) anti-climatic and sniggersome that the Doctor was able to disable said water-raising device by flicking a tiny switch atop a rooftop, and third wheel Rory’s (temporary?) reintroduction was suitably awkward: his one-upmanship repartee with the Doctor providing more of a spark than his lifeless relationship with love Amy, but then that is clearly the point. Overall, “The Vampires of Venice” [sic] was a rollicking fun - if throwaway - old-school caper (swashbuckling sword-and-broom fight included), with a zinging script infusing an age-old narrative structure (aliens disguised as humans to con us into saving their race? *yawn*) with life.

CR@B Rating: ***.5

BBC One – 15/5/2010 – 6:25pm
Written by: Simon Nye
Directed by: Catherine Morshead

I will get straight to the point: this was – thus far – the least successful episode of series five. Flawed, corny and disengaging – and this is coming from somebody who gave the derided “Victory of the Daleks” four stars out of five!! My disappointment at “Amy's Choice” was further aggravated given the calibre of the writer (Simon Nye of Men Behaving Badly fame), the intrigue and anticipation garnered by the quirky trailer at the tail end of “The Vampires of Venice”, and the unforgivable waste of such a high-profile guest star. Infamous lead Toby “Truman Capote” Jones was perfectly cast as the impish and mischievous Dream Lord, but let down by a story which, even after the psyche-twist at the climax, never justified his character or gave him any acceptable cause or motivation whatsoever. He was a knock-off “Q” to the Doctor's Jean Luc, if you will.

Predominantly a character piece dedicated to attempting to validate the doubtful romance between Amy and Rory, “Amy's Choice” saw the travelling trio tossed between the rural community of Leadworth five years in the future, and a disabled TARDIS careening helplessly towards a cold star. Have Rory and a heavily pregnant Amy been living happily-married in a sleepy rural village which is secretly under threat from aliens disguised as curtain-twitching octogenarians, or is it a shared dream? Is the TARDIS doomed to crash and freeze, or is this the communal dream and Leadworth a dull reality? Only the Dream Lord knows, and he isn't telling. What a tease...

I concur that it was a fantastically oddball, Freudian-skirting premise; but the execution was so hokey and pocked with holes as to totally negate my interest. For instance: surely the existence-flitting trio could deduce that the future on Earth isn't reality by the fact that they haven't lived for five whole years?! Furthermore, I failed to believe in the character development drilled into us, even if the episode's dialogue was decently humorous (particularly the remark about the “elephant in the room”). But that was the very least we should have expected from a seasoned sitcom writer.

CR@B Rating: **

BBC One – 22/5/2010 – 6:15pm
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Ashley Way

A two-part story set in a sleepy Welsh village where 2020 looks remarkably similar to the present day? This'll be a cheap-to-film mid-season filler, then, thought I, cynically, upon reading the opening title card. After last week's disappointing dud – and a trailer which failed to grip me – I feared it would be “onwards and downwards” (to ironically quote from the script) for the rest of this highly anticipated new series. Thankfully, “The Hungry Earth” struck gold (albeit in a slow-burning fashion) and made a fool of me for judging an episode from a 30 second tease.

Once you are over the frankly ludicrous scenario that an operation as grand and spectacular as the world's deepest tunnelling drill is being run by a crew of just 3 people (!), you can enjoy this tale of disgruntled lizard-tongued reptilian warriors, the Silurian (making their first Who appearance since the 1980's), reawakened by Wale’s subterranean drilling and remerging to reclaim “their” planet from the “apes” who became the dominant species.

The episode was heavy on build-up – the Homo Reptilia don’t even turn up until well over half way through – and perhaps felt a tad modest compared to more exciting recent jaunts, but a number of neat and well-executed details elevated it above talky groundwork for next week’s purportedly larger-scale conclusion: the Doctor's lack of parental experience in letting schoolboy Elliot (Samuel Davis) walk off alone amid increasing danger highlighted the Time Lord's inhuman weakness; the quarantined town being pitched in premature darkness due to a domed force shield was a nicely disorientating touch; and Silurian Alaya's (Neve McIntosh) silhouette stalking Elliot in the church graveyard was genuinely haunting.

It was an interesting move to keep Amy out of the action for so long in “The Hungry Earth”, and show how her 'boys' handled a situation where her life is at risk, cocooned underground at the mercy of a Silurian surgeon. But in keeping with the episode’s low-key tone, it was a shame that we saw so little of the heavily made-up Bossk-a-likes: the tribesmen of the uprising scouting party scarper the minute female Alaya is captured (and they call themselves warriors?!).

Furthermore, the (human) guest cast – in essence just one small-town family – did little but act as puppets to the Doctor’s stream of orders. Worryingly, he too would have been completely screwed (geddit?) were it not for his multi-purpose sonic screwdriver, which offered a quick-fix solution far too often (though it doesn’t work on un-sticking expanded wooden doors, which was a humorous line in a mainly straight-laced script). But these are minor niggles in an otherwise enjoyable escapade which is sure to get far more epic in next week’s “Cold Blood”.

CR@B Rating: ***.5

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Live from the Tainted Junction

Who? Diana Vickers
What? Live on Tour
When? Monday 10th May, 2010
Where? The Junction, Cambridge
Why? To celebrate and promote the release of her debut album

Let’s be honest: the Junction is neither a spacey nor refined venue. It’s adequately sufficient, in a low-key, shadowy, student-friendly kind of way, but it’s no Royal Albert Hall. Hell, it’s no Norwich Arts Centre, but when the lights are down, the drinks are flowing and the amps are cranked up to 11, nobody will complain about the puddle of WKD beneath their feet. Especially not Diana Vickers, who positively beamed as if on top of the world as she stepped out onto the Cambridge stage wearing a funky mosaic dress at just after 9pm last night. I guess that’s what achieving a number one single and album in the last few weeks can do to somebody’s confidence - not that the 18 year-old songstress was ever lacking in that.

Opening with the ballsy forthcoming second single, “The Boy Who Murdered Love”, and closing with the crowd-pleasing, number one debut “Once” (what else?), before returning to the stage to round out the night with a more mellow encore in the shape of ballad “Notice”, Miss Vickers was on stunning form throughout the far-too-short set (a meagre 55 minutes). But it was unquestionably a case of quality over quantity as the setlist was not cluttered with “Remember when I sang this on week six of the X Factor?!” filler, but powered by the strongest tracks from her brilliant debut album Songs From the Tainted Cherry Tree, which Diana clearly had a blast showcasing to the up-for-it attendees. Her pride in her material is evident, and every track was another of her favourites for one reason or another.

Highlights included:

* An animated performance of up-tempo “You’ll Never Get To Heaven” with much dancing, posing and thrusting; quite befitting the vivacious number. Yet not once did Diana’s powerful vocals waver – where did she get the energy from? And what was in her water...?

* The Gary Lightbody penned “Just Say Yes”, replete with amusing anecdote about how the Snow Patrol front man asked for ‘his’ song back. Diana got so lost in the music that she apparently knocked over her red wine!!

* Tommy the Trumpet’s appearance for latina-flavoured “My Hip”. Diana pre-warned us that ‘he’ hadn’t been too smooth in rehearsal earlier in the day, but the brass horn pulled through when it counted. Quite how Diana could muster the breath to play the instrument that far into her set is beyond me. Bravo.

* Cherry Tree is a rousing and full-bodied album which has clearly clicked with the public, and nothing screams success like an audience signalling number "1" throughout "Once" and swaying collectively during "Notice". "I wanna see those fingers in the air!"

CR@B Verdict: As her career continues to blossom, the venues will get larger and the setlists longer, but this was a powerful if lean performance from a talented, enthusiastic and energetic young lady. What a voice. What a dress. What a night.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Boys and their Toys

Cine-review: IRON MAN 2
12A – 124 min. – 2010
Written by: Justin Theroux
Based on the characters created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Shandling


After a bleak and washed-out Russia-set prologue establishes the theme of fatherly vengeance fuelling physicist Ivan Vanko's (Mickey Rourke) violent motives for becoming electric-harnessing foe Whiplash, Jon Favereau's superhero sequel swiftly shifts gear into a totally different animal for the remainder of its two hour running time, hiding any sense of darkness under a bright and polished shell. Which, as it happens, is also a fair assessment of how we find billionaire man-behind-the-iron-mask Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as he opens the “Stark Expo”, a year-long technological showcase, amid a blaze of fireworks and cheerleaders; fearful for his survival as the power source keeping his heart beating is slowly poisoning his body, yet all smiles, peace signs and self-assured sarcasm as the poster boy for America's peace: Iron Man.

Unfortunately, everybody isn't quite so in love with Stark as he is with himself: the Government – spearheaded by hot-headed Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) – is determined to take control of Stark's “weapon” for military use, while shameless rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) has tenacious plans to upstage the techno-suit and stick two fingers up at Stark by unveiling his own drone-like creations (think beefed-up Super Battle Droids from the Star Wars prequels) at the Expo, by any underhanded means necessary. Being the top dog is really important to these people.

Friend Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the first film) isn't always successful in keeping Stark's head in the game – or clear of alcohol – as Tony names former personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) CEO of his company, then slowly goes off the rails towards self destruction. A riotous sequence as Rhodes dons his War Machine suit to butt heads with his drunken pal following a disastrous birthday party is a highlight in an otherwise talk-heavy, preparatory middle section as Tony returns to his Minority Report-style lab to battle with the elements and revitalise his uncooperative chest reactor, while Hammer secretly hires the scientific services of a scheming Vanko to mobilize his drone army for a flashy, high-flying conclusion.

The A-list cast are superb at putting the comic in this comic book adaptation; Downey Jr. emanates suit-ably elevated ego, while man mountain Rourke is a believably unpredictable threat and Rockwell is as shady as he is scatty. Scarlett Johansson smoulders as the secretary SHIELDing a secret identity, and even Favereau's chauffeur character, Happy Hogan, is a chucklesome success in an expanded role which sees his boxing training come in handy.

Beyond the buzzing banter, however, the explosive Monaco set-piece early in the plot is never bettered for sheer nail-biting tension, despite the filmmakers employing the 'bigger is better' approach to this entertaining CGI extravaganza. The busy finale ultimately wastes Whiplash's accumulated ferocity in an all-too-brief battle. When all is said, done and blown to smithereens, this big-budget follow-up boils down to a bunch of emasculated men vying to topple a superhuman idol in their magnificent flying (war) machines. Some things never change, no matter how much cash you flash. Question is, who's got the biggest... rocket?

CR@B Verdict: A marvel-lous cast have a tremendous time delivering bright, shiny, summer blockbuster fun, peppered with laughs. Iron Man 2 is a lightweight but likeable robot pissing contest on a grand scale.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Copyright Sin in Central City

12 – 98mins – 2008
Written for the screen by: Frank Miller
Adapted from the comic book series by: Will Eisner
Directed by: Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Louis Lombardi, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Eric Balfour, Stana Katic


Following the runaway success of the stylised punk noir of Sin City (2005) and the gritty macho force of 300 (2007), you would be forgiven for thinking Frank Miller, creator of the comic books upon which the aforementioned films were based and co-director of the former, could do no wrong. Then, however, he decided to take somebody else’s line-drawn superhero creation and desecrate any originality by stamping his signature limited-palette stamp all over a celluloid adaptation.

The nerve.

Visually, The Spirit craves to be Sin City 2, if Miller ploughed ahead with a Robert Rodriguez-less, muted, family affair lacking in quality, edge and, well, spirit. It’s the film of a graphic novel, minus the graphic, attempting to win audiences over as an outlandish, tongue-in-cheek genre parody (character names Sand Saref and Plaster of Paris speak for themselves), yet for all of its ‘witty’ dialogue, flamboyant ‘flair’ and flashes of deliberately hammy spoofery, it takes itself far too seriously to succeed.

The minimal plot concerns murdered cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht; unendearing) who is brought back to life with the power to take a beating and heal at superhuman speed. Donning a face mask, black shirt and ‘iconic’ red tie, Colt becomes the eponymous Spirit, who keeps his beloved Central City safe from crime and flamboyant madmen such as his arch-enemy, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also imbued with this inflated tolerance of bodily torture and, for reasons unknown, will not shut up about eggs (!!).

Also on the green screen scene is Denny's childhood crush, the sexy, diamond-lover San Serif (Eva Mendes), who is on the hunt for the mythological Golden Fleece, unaware that her beloved bling is in an identical chest to the Octopus's desired treasure: the Blood of Hercules, which would extend his indestructibility towards demi-god status. What are the chances?! Quite high, apparently, as they are both found – chained together – at the bottom of a sewage plant swamp, and each party is enraged to have gone away with the wrong prized procession.

Isn't that always the way?!!

It's a farcical plot seemingly derived from a 1950’s Looney Tunes vignette, but without the laughs. This isn't through lack of trying, however: the Spirit and the Octopus trade heavy blows throwing in everything including the kitchen sink; the Spirit falls from a skyscraper only to get his trouser waistband caught on a gargoyles head in line with a lift full of giggling girls; the Octopus dabbles with cloning and creates a bouncing foot with a human head.... Frankly, it's cheap and groan-worthy balderdash.

The film's supporters – I'm sure there are some, somewhere – will argue that this is precisely the point, that Frank Miller wanted to create a self-aware piss-take of the overblown, ostentatious comic book superhero movie. Yet, while there are suggestions of such ‘ironic’ humour – the Octopus's army of dumb and defective cloned cannon fodder (all played by Louis Lombardi); the Octopus and Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) playing Nazi dress up to deliver long-winded exposition to the captive hero – ultimately, The Spirit falls far from the mark. It's a rambling and directionless mess of an adaptation, filled with flaws – Jamie Foxx's confusing and unexplained appearances as Spirit-saving goddess (?) Lorelei Rox, for example – which you're laughing at, not with.

Nobody is going to persuade me that Frank Miller purposefully made a shit film.

CR@B Verdict: A sad and sorry slurry of recycled style over sub-par substance: The Spirit is bombastic dreck which should never have been brought back to life in this form. Avoid.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Hammering Away

15 – 81mins – 2008
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Steve “Lips” Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Glenn Five, Tiziana Arrigoni, Chris “CT” Tsangarides


I am not a fan of Heavy Metal music, therefore it is no surprise that before watching this film I had never heard of the band Anvil. I have since learnt that the “demi-gods of Canadian Metal” (as a die-hard fan dubs them in the film) were instrumental in the early 1980's for establishing the scene bands such as Metallica, Guns & Roses and Bon Jovi would go on to thrive in and conquer, while Anvil faded into obscurity, no more than a footnote in musical history.

Which begs the obvious question: why should we care now, 30 years and 12 unsuccessful albums after “Metal on Metal” (1982), their biggest hit? This no-thrills documentary opens with a smattering of famous talking heads (Slash and Motorhead's Lemmy being the two biggest names) citing Anvil as a massive and timeless inspiration. Well, obviously they would, they're getting paid by the producers to big these guys up, but as the camera's are switched on and director Sacha Gervasi trails the ageing rockers as they endure the hardships of a career in music once the spotlight has long since faded, you really start to rally for these passionate and determined underdogs. Even after a sprightly 81 minutes, Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) will leave you in nothing but full support of the band come the end credits.

You feel the manager-less foursome's pain as they play their hearts out to a handful of uninterested punters in a grubby pub in Prague, only to be told at the end of the night that they won't be paid because they got lost on their way and were a little late to the venue. Alongside working unglamorous 9-to-5 jobs, frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow and co-founder/lifelong best friend/drummer Robb Reiner – no, not he from This Is Spinal Tap (1984), although you'd sometimes be forgiven the cringeworthy comparison to the calamitous faux rockumentary – toil relentlessly, frequently falling out, coming to blows or on the brink of tears, sacrificing so much for their love of the art and faith in their material.

Some (cynical) observers may say the washed up has beens are deluded for thinking a global company such as EMI Music Group are going to even think twice about distributing their 13th album, This Is Thirteen (2007), yet it is compelling to watch these sincere and likeable guys chase the dream. You really do fight alongside them on their rollercoaster ride, but the small victories bring about the biggest smiles. I sincerely wish Anvil all the best in bringing their music to the people: I hope this film has generated the recognition they duly deserve.

CR@B Verdict: A testament to the passion and dedication of a band who love what they do and will do it 'til the end, no matter the odds, no matter the cost. Anvil! is a touching and inspiring watch for anyone determined to realise an impossible dream.
Why not check out the band's official site, or the glowing review posted at Thom's House of Film, which persuaded me to check Anvil out?

Angels with Dirty Imaginations

BBC One - 1st May 2010 – 6:25pm
Written by: Stephen Moffat
Directed by: Adam Smith
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Alex Kingston, Iain Glen, David Atkins, Darren Morfitt, Mark Monero, George Russo

[“SPOILERS!”] Part two of this highly-anticipated Weeping Angels story was another top notch slice of prime, sharply written entertainment, topped off with a brave, adult edge. “Flesh and Stone” began by turning last week's cliffhanger on its head. Literally. Playing with the gravity field on the spaceship Byzantium, the Doctor's (Matt Smith) diminishing team are able to allude the ever-strengthening army of Angels and enter the bowels of the crashed craft, with the stony foes hot on their heels and hungry for... oxygen. Yep, the Angels need to breathe, too, granting us the pleasure of a fabulous Oxygen Factory set (“Trees... with technology!”), which made a pleasant and exotic change from rock and steel.

Following her terrifying trailer encounter with an Angel in “The Time of Angels”, Amy (Karen Gillan) has picked up an unnerving habit of counting down, which is a simple but chilling device courtesy of the Angel currently 'living' inside her mind, ratcheting up the episode's tension, especially because you aren't even aware it's a countdown until she's nearly half way to zero. The Doctor's shockingly obtuse diagnosis that Amy is dying is a fantastic look inside his alien mind, especially when it is juxtaposed with a tender, comforting word and kiss on the forehead for his inflicted companion.

Some fans may complain that the resolution (Amy must close her eyes to 'pause' the Angel within and pretend to see while she walks between the encroaching enemies) damages the Angel's formerly indomitable reputation (not to mention the show's internal logic, but, hey this is fantasy), but they still make fearsome foes. The fact they are making Amy count down “for fun” while they manically cackle at their victims demonstrates their dominance over - and disregard for - humans, and the scene when he finally see them move is chillingly executed.
The mysterious crack which has plagued Amy since her youth and trailed the travelling companions since “The Eleventh Hour” is dealt with much earlier in the run than many probably expected (Who story arcs usually stretch the entire 13 episode series), the burst of “time energy” – the cause of many a forgetful moment due to its ability to rewrite and unwrite time; particularly effective when the cleric's deny their fellow commando's existence – sealing itself shut on a diet of Weeping Angels. But as one arc closes, another arc opens in the form of the eight digit base code for the universe, but more about that later.

Despite delivering a cryptic sneek preview to the Doctor about a future meeting when “Pandorica opens” (the third time this event has been mentioned in new Who), I couldn't help feeling that River Song's (Alex Kingston) impact upon this episode was somewhat decreased after her bombastic return in a blaze of banter last week. At times she seemed little more than a backseat apprentice to the master in “Flesh and Bone” (the times that the Doctor lost his rag with her were delivered with aplomb from Smith), her only plot point of note being Father 'Bishop' Octavian's (Iain Glen) revelation that River is an untrustworthy murderer in his custody, her objective to achieve her mission and earn a pardon. There is a strong hint that her (future) victim is our dear Doctor, but this seems a far too simplistic outcome to this time flux murder mystery.

I mentioned in my review of “The Time of Angels” that last week's episode felt like there was a distinct break in proceedings which brought together two disparate story threads (River Song's reintroduction > the Maze of the Dead), and the same is true here. With the Weeping Angels being caught out by the “gravity of the situation” (guffaw), the final ten minutes are dedicated to a rather surprising, tone-shifting epilogue back at Amy's house, where she finally admits her desire for the Doc, coming onto him in rather an extreme fashion – particularly considering the early timeslot and young demographic tuning in. Promiscuous girl, indeed. Okay, so nothing overtly sexual was spelled out, but I'm sure some puritan cages were rattled as Amy lay on her bed expecting, well, you know... The Doctor dutifully declines (is he mad?!!) – something about a 900 year age gap, oh, and him being an alien – but it does spark his realisation that the aforementioned base code of the universe is interlinked with Amy's timeline – and ours – 26/06/2010 is the air date of the series finale. Handy, that.

Let the countdown begin! Next stop: Venice...

CR@B Verdict: A thrilling if flawed pay-off packed with action, frights, emotion and an unexpected injection of passion. Yep, in Doctor Who!! Perhaps “Flesh and Bone(r)” would have been a more apt title...? ;-)