Monday, May 27, 2013

Attack of the Rotting Corpses (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Because I believe a critic's duty involves honesty with one's audience at all times let me begin with a warning: Zombie Joe's Attack of the Rotting Corpses does not contain any musical numbers. No musical numbers, got it?

I mention this because of a pertinent comparison. A movie came out within the last year that got a fair amount of attention. Titled Warm Bodies, it in effect took the genre of Zombies and created a story somewhat akin to Twilight. Well, here we have something similar. A zombie storyline retold rather in the manner of the (in)famous Rocky Horror Picture Show. A relatively isolated location full of eccentric characters, sexual shenanigans, jealousy and envy and suspicion as well as a lot of comic myopia playing itself out with laughs and a few dashes of horror and/or drama. Along the way, characters find out some things about themselves. Forbidden fruit earns a bite or two. Death comes suddenly as well as violently, with oddly inappropriate reactions for humor's sake. Middle class ethics get skewered and yet kinda celebrated. Instead of Middle America, we're at a condo in San Fernando Valley, yet the same skewed sense of humor abounds.

But--no musical numbers, like I said.

First and foremost, given this play counts as a comedy, the questions quite rightly begin with "Is it funny?" The answer is YES. But...the "but" in this case depending on the audience. Those easily grossed out or with very weak stomachs should probably give this one a pass.While not as violent as (for example) Urban Death, this remains a show not for the squeamish.

More importantly, Attack earned laughs aplenty from the audience. To be brutally honest, I had a hard time joining in. At first. By show's end, I was laughing out loud with everybody else! Easy to see why. Central to the story we meet Mack and Vic (Corey Zicari and Tyler Koster respectively) who work as conscierges at a condo. Among the many travails with which they must contend is a phone number rather too similar to that of a laundromat, the loss of a priceless (to the owner) red scarf in the dry cleaning, the strange behavior of a tenant no one's seen for awhile (and his girlfriend). Oh, and the water is off. Why? Well, therein lies the rather disturbing news. Not only had something gone terribly wrong with the pipes mixing the wrong waters, it seems some kind of bacteria showed up as well. As the plumber Blane (R.Benjamin Warren) explains, this bacteria will eat away at your innards and destroy your brain, turning the poor wretch thus infected into a decomposing psychotic obsessed with devouring fresh human flesh.

Not the sort of news one likes to hear from any plumber, much less your own!

Remember, though--no musical numbers. Just a reminder

This, naturally, is the setup for a mini zombie apocalypse as our heroes (or, more accurately, schmucks--nice overall, hard-working yeah, but totally unequal to any real disaster) try to cope.

And yeah, fail. We laugh in the face of death and doom, lest we cry or simply scream. Hence the whole point! Our attempts to hold on to normalcy even in the face of walking cadavers trying to eat us is one reason nearly all zombie flicks have an element of humor. Dark humor, to be sure. Attack follows that meme with no apologies and plenty of relish (plus maybe some soy sauce). By the end I was laughing out loud and having a great time! What interfered with my enjoyment at the start was something technical.

Forgive the metaphor, but a roller coaster is no fun if you don't slow down sometimes, if the car doesn't climb up or spend some time simply going on a horizontal plane. Attack started frenetic instead of building, and as a result a lot of the humorous rhythm didn't work--at first. We the audience all adapted to it, eventually. But honestly several different times I simply didn't know what was going on. A few cast members spoke so quickly and with the same over-energized pitch figuring out what they were saying proved pointless. Everybody seemed really talented (Chris Hodge as Paisley almost stole it) and when they actually interacted grabbed (and kept) my attention. But since it began over the top, very loud and very fast, it took awhile for me to "get in the grove."

When I--and everyone else--did, though, the show made for a wonderfully dark time in the theater! And apart from the genuine talent throughout, a big part of that goes to the writing. Here we glimpsed a world very like out own, but tweaked. For example, the pettiness of many characters came across as both pathetic and yet somehow heroic. Don't think the essential gag of a couple of wage-slaves doing a dull repetitive job end up attacked by zombies went unnoticed! Oh no! Or how devoted said wage-slaves remained to their own, in some ways silly, code of honor. The zombies will NOT be allowed to steal a sandwich intended for a friend! Death does not mean one gives up on hatred of a rival condo! And just because hordes of undead cannibals are reaching to rip you into pieces with no possible escape and rescue in sight--that's no reason not to answer the phone when it rings and identify your workplace.

Ridiculous, and brave. Stoopid, but with a few drops of greatness. So we laugh. Lest we cry, remember we too will die. Probably not via zombies, but something. Mack and Vic are just going through a souped up version of a really, really bad day. And who hasn't known a few of those?

But again--no musical numbers.

Well, maybe one. Kinda.

Attack of the Rotting Corpses (presented in its third incarnation!) plays Fridays at 11pm until July 12, 2013. Shows are at Zombie Joe's at 4850 Lankershim, North Hollywood (across the street from KFC) CA 91601. Reservations are at (818) 202-4120.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Richard III (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Fair is fair. Let me begin by noting that Shakespeare's play Richard III is one of my favorites. Hence I bear quite a number of opinions on the subject--what is going on, how to view the characters, its strengths and weaknesses, etc. This cannot help but color my review.

That acknowledged, Zombie Joe's production of this play left me with some profoundly mixed feelings.

Begin with the text. As per standard operating procedure at ZJU, this three-hour-plus script ended up streamlined to one third that length. No bad thing, it seems to me. Richard III, an early play by Shakespeare, tends to seem overlong, especially to American audiences with less than a far-above-average knowledge of English history. Even the recent discovery of Richard's bones probably did little to change that. Besides, the sheer number of characters and the complexity of the relationships is so vast, I can but applaud practical efforts to make the play an easier experience. Had Shakespeare written the play later in life, it would frankly be a better and less cluttered script. Probably shorter as well.

But as far as I can tell, the editor in this case focused on hitting the high points of the plot. This effort works very well for some plays. It certainly did when the same director seemed to use this approach for her award-winning Hamlet last year and her thoroughly delightful Much Ado About Nothing a few months past! However, Richard III is (at least in my view) primarily a character piece--a portrait of this villain who shared all his thoughts and schemes with the audience. In effect, he makes them his co-conspirators. The plot per se is not only secondary, but almost tertiary. To work, we need to see Richard first and foremost, see and share his experience of events.

One result of this approach proved to be confusion. Major characters ended up cut, so they respective deaths impacted us not at all. Yet my companion that evening simply could not keep track of them all. She walked away with plenty of erroneous ideas of what happened. I myself lost track of who was who and what just happened, yet I know the play very well!

This approach involved stripping away nearly all nuance from the central character. Elizabethan theatre abounded with plays about Richard. He was their equivalent of Hannibal Lecter! Yet we only produce Shakespeare's version today. Why? Because in this one, he's a human being as well as a monster. He's a man who says "Love foreswore me in my mother's womb." (Olivier added this line from an earlier history play, but the words did come from Richard).  Likewise he wakes from nightmares of his victims and in the dead of night, gives voice to the bitter self awareness that he can find no pity in himself even for himself. (Ian McClellan cut this speech to the bone, but pointed did retain it). All these tiny glimpses of the man he might have been--gone. So the reason for the full title--The Tragedy of Richard III--gone. He isn't a tragedy. He's just an evil jerk.

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe
And yet...

W. Lochridge O'Bryan portrays Richard and Anna Gillcrist Lady Anne (right) is what is in many ways THE scene. Known as the "wooing of Lady Anne" this scene makes one long to see more interactions between the characters.

Honestly, it rarely works. Finding a way to justify how Richard persuades Anne to even consider him--he just interrupted the public funeral procession of her father in law, whom he murdered!--poses quite a challenge. I have my own theories. This production made a choice I've never seen before. And it worked so very, very well! This is what always hopes for in going to see a play already known! Something new and wonderful!  Going back to the history, that Anne and Richard grew up together as children, I could see the history there. More, I could see a reaction to Richard that Anne tried desperately to control--namely, that she found him intensely attractive! That the whole production didn't use this utterly wonderful piece of irony frustrated me no end! The fact they did it at all, however, was worth going in and of itself!

But really, kudos to those two in the highest caliber!

Photo Credit: Zombie Joe
O'Bryan unfortunately (and the cuts in the script did not help) fell into a trap. A common trap, with all acting and to some degree with acting Shakespeare. Several members of the cast fell into the same one. They chose to play exactly one emotion, pretty much throughout. Some of them could do it quite well! Sarah Fairfax as Queen Elizabeth (the famous Elizabeth's great grandmother) does worried nicely. But for most of the play that is all she did, until near the end when she gave us a very good example of fear. Multi-layered fear at that. But O'Bryan spent something like two-thirds of his stage time angry--nearly always a bad choice (this rule of thumb got hammered into me at the National Shakespeare Conservatory and I've zero reason to doubt it). Frankly, when he wasn't foaming at the mouth and almost screaming his Richard proved riveting. His kind words to Clarence, the scene in which he woo'd Lady Anne, his own terror during and after the nightmare before battle--this flashes of humanity made me want to see him again.

But for the most part his Richard seemed a one-note thug. Not, I'm convinced, from lack of talent. In several other roles actors I've seen before--Tyler McAuliffe and Kirby Anderson (excellent in Sculptress of Angel X)--fell into the same bad habits many do when confronted with Shakespeare. Unnatural body language is one (the overuse of hands is a dead giveaway) while another is acting out what they're talking about. Oh dear. And throughout, most of the cast grabbing a single emotion and holding on to it for dear life through all that iambic pentameter.

But again, there were flashes in most of the cast of real quality. Only in the wooing of Lady Anne did it prove consistent, however. For that scene at least I was pleased to have gone. But for the most part I don't think this was up to the standards established by this director in her previous two Shakespeare productions.

Richard III plays at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group at 4850 Lakershim Blvd, North Hollywood CA 91606 Fridays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7pm until June 16, 2013. You can make reservations at (818) 202-4120

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Shawl (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

At the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose stands a venue called the Moth Theatre. Turns out to be a little startling. One has to look for it! But in the end one can find it--through the alley in back. Nicely, there's parking!

Even more nicely, there's a production of David Mamet's The Shawl underway. Not one of Mamet's best known plays, but something of a gem. The company decided to do something interesting in this case--switching the genders of the characters.

So instead of a Miss A we get a Mr. A (Ryan Surratt, who also directed). He goes to see a spiritualist named Joan (Lili Bordan) in the wake of his mother's death, finding himself astonished with what she seems to know of him. Originally "Joan" was John, a middle aged man trying to keep his younger lover Charles--in this version a young woman called Charlie (Liz Guest).

What we see as the play unfolds is how belief shapes life, not simply in the way we see what we with to see. No, something far more complex. Because when we disagree on belief, what are we left with? More, what happens when facts seemingly contradict what we believe--or at least what we long to believe? Consider--a man with unresolved issues. Permanently unresolved, now that his mother has died. But he does not confront the real issues. Rather, he aims for a different question, asking a medium for an answer from his mother--not what he really wants to know, but what he pretends matters most.

Now consider the medium. Who is a fraud. Or at least has all the skills of a fraud. Yet she evidently has real ethics, considers her tricks and skills in service of something honest, something good.

But she'll break those rules to keep a young lover. Someone who only recently came into her life. And that someone--she'll make demands, flatly refuse to show patience, yet turn out to have her own set of longings. She too wants to believe.

In what?

Therein lies the rub. Because Mamet, like Chekhov, writes with deep and complex subtext. The play only works when and if the cast dive into the complex hints and nuances of these characters--these contradictory, extremely human characters--and bring them to life on stage.

Which is precisely what happens in The Shawl. In theater convention, there's an idea called "the well made play" in which all the plot points are hit, the formulaic complexities and climaxes and unveilings unfold in a measured, workable pattern. This play doesn't do that. It is too real to fit into such a structure. Given the sheer number of stylistic plays I've been seeing lately, it was honestly rather refreshing to watch human beings simply talk on stage, each wanting so much and trying to hide it, as we as a species in this society are wont to do.

This cast dove in and dove deep. Nothing in the text gives anyone but Mr. A--the least important of the three--anything like a specific backstory. Yet Joan and Charlie carried their pasts with them when they came on stage. Each portrayed the emotional habits of a lifetime, habits that brought them together. This might easily have been an ordinary crime drama. If so, the plot would have been simple enough. Either Mr. A is conned or not. If conned, who gets the money? If not, do the criminals escape and/or remain loyal to one another? But The Shawl is not a crime drama, although it remains a drama surrounding what is technically a crime.

But again, close to nothing without actors doing it right. Mediocre performances are the equivalent of singing an entire song off key. We'll all seen these.

Bordan gives the bulk of the lines, which often come across as the verbal equivalent of hand-waving. Yet she also tries to tell people something, something real. That she does it with lies, or the habit of half-truths at least, leaves us with a very complex emotional reaction at the end. We still want to believe. Indeed, I still felt it quite possible she's a real medium at the end. Whether she believes it or not. But then, who's to say my belief is any more valid than hers? Save that I (and the audience) share much of Guest's character's world view, at least in terms of this person and this specific situation. Guest (and Surratt) both masterfully commit one of the greatest skills any actor can show--listening. And, like real human beings, they listen with agendas. How can they not?

Well, actually, plenty of actors do not. But these three do, and the emotional fabric of what they weave on that stage wraps us up in a story we only partially understand.

Like a shawl.

The Shawl plays at Moth Theater Thursdays, Fridays,and Saturdays at 8pm until May 31, 2013. The address is 4359 Melrose (at Heliotrope) Los Angeles CA 90029.

Hemophelia's House of Horrors (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Some of us with Halloween were every day. Or every month at least. Hemophelia's House of Horrors is a comedy variety show aimed squarely at that precise audience.

Hemophelia (Lara Fisher) is our hostess, the love child of Elvira Mistress of the Dark and Hannibal Lecter. She introduces a series of sketches dealing with typical light-hearted fare. Children contemplating the murder of their mother. A Twilight Zone-esque tale of a lout who meets a bosom  he cannot handle. Torture. Mass death. That kinda thing.

To be honest, it was a mixed bag. Was it funny? Yes. Was it entertaining and clever and very much worth my time? Beyond doubt! But it did feel a tad under-rehearsed. Sometimes one could see the humor hovering at one level when it could have easily gone higher (and funnier) with a little work. Indeed, the first sketch proved a case in point. Without going into too many details it all came down to a babysitter telling a tall tale to get her little charges to shut up and go to bed. It all spirals out of control from there. It worked (indeed set a nicely comic and macabre tone for the whole show) but with a little more work it could have been hilarious.

That held true throughout. Never once was I bored or felt un-entertained. But I've seen better from the Visceral Company, who've created something of a high bar for themselves. Then again, I watched the show on opening night, complete with the traditional jitters. In fact, my own guess is the ensemble and their sketches will keep improving. Already HHOH (I like to imagine this pronounced as "H'hoe") makes for a very nice blend of SCTV and a slew of horror movies. Given a chance, I'd gladly see it again!

Special mention should go to the delightful "Habeas Corpus" bit roughly halfway through. My words cannot do the piece justice, but let us just note the presence of puppets. Leave it at that. Kudos to Jana Wimer who created it.

I also wanted to give a special shout-out to Cloie Wyatt Taylor, not simply for being a good actress (the entire cast did a very good job) but for doing a magnificent job of physical acting in the sketch with the brothers. It was an entirely silent role yet her character came shining through. I note she also doubled as choreographer!

Samm Hill also did a very good job when it came to actually conveying a great deal with his voice. This is a pet peeve of mine, actors who have not mastered their instrument. Well, he has--and it showed itself off best in the last sketch (all about when things go wrong in the middle of a Satanic ritual--don't you HATE it when that happens?) The bit about a surgeon worked less well, but that seems to me an extremely difficult piece to get right. The tone required would probably need a lot more time to nail down (see rehearsal above).

Cynthia Zitter played several parts, of various ages and types, doing them very well. She enjoys a quite interesting and compelling stage presence--one my eyes did not wish to leave.

Matt DeNoto performed as well as wrote and did the songs for the show. His abilities came across as very real and praiseworthy, even in the problematical sketch with Mr. Hill. I especially liked him in the Satanic Ritual sketch (Note for life: Do not reveal to anyone involved in dark magic secrets you don't want them to know. Really.)

Casey Cristensen in truth didn't have a lot to do overall--that is, she didn't really play any of the central roles for the most part. These kinds of parts all too often end up with, well, lesser performers. One the things I so liked about HHOH was how uniformly good the entire ensemble proved to be, including Mis Christensen as well as Brian Prisco.

As for Miss Fisher as Hemophelia, she fulfilled her role admirably, with just the right blend of cute and psycho-horror. She sings quite nicely as well. Her smile and voice remained with me. Still do, in fact.

Hemophelia's House of Horrors plays Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 pm until June 8, plus special Hollywood Fringe performances Tuesday, June 11, at 8pm and Thursday, June 13, at 10:30pm (No performances May 17-18. Head to the Lex at 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood, 90038 (corner of Lexington and Highland, thereabouts, just north of Santa Monical Blvd).

Kill Me (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Kill Me as an original play premiered at the Wildclaw Theatre in Chicago. I mention this because when first learning the Visceral Company here in Los Angeles would produce one of their shows, my reaction was excitement! Alas, have never seen Wildclaw. Only read about them. And longed to see one of their productions!

So what is Kill Me all about? Depends. On the most basic level one can say it tells of Cam (Natasha Charles Parker), a troubled young woman who clearly inspires powerful emotions in others. Her lover Grace (Jonica Patella) for all practical purposes fell into Cam's eyes and in a real sense never crawled out. This idea will creep you out while watching the play. I'm just warning you. Likewise Cam's sister Wendy (Angela Stern) continues to feel a shadow or echo across her life, even after years of no contact.

Cam recovers from a short-term coma--one precisely seven days in length from the minute of a car accident to her eyes opening. To the minute. Odd.


She claims to have gone...somewhere. Hell maybe. To have somehow encountered bizarre beings, being that altered her in totally unexpected--and surprisingly horrific--way. Cam insists she cannot now die. This notion fills her with horror. Some might find this puzzling. I do not. But if you do, the play spells it out for you. Watching every single person or thing you love decay and vanish over and over over again--such make for the stuff of nightmares. And that is only the beginning.

But is this true? True in the same sense that the 101 Highway is a factual thing? Something we all perceive and therefore agree exists? Or is it true only in terms of what Cam herself believes? Then again, perhaps it is both. Her trauma might just have given her the ability to see what others cannot, which she interprets in her own way, right or wrong (or both). The monsters that haunt and tease and threaten her--we the audience see them. See how they might just be influencing Grace and Wendy (may I add my love of these character names?). And if they are real, what are they, really? Hallucinations given form, the native monsters of the darkest shadows of our minds, eternal horrors that predate time and shall outlive reality--take your pick!

Said monsters have a name in the program, dubbed the Miseries: (right, clockwise) Yanna Fabian is Paranoia, Lamont Webb Angst, Karen Nicole Dread,  and Alexander Price Despair.

As you has hopefully perceived by now (and if the title weren't enough of a clue), Kill Me is a horror story. Written by Scott T. Barsotti, it uses the same fundamental horror that informs such classics as The Haunting or the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Recall that the Robert Wise film, unlike the remake, followed Shirley Jackson in refusing to "explain" what was happening. Just as we never ever really find out what is up with that Raven--whether or not it is even real. Poor Cam perceives a horror that might crack a stronger will than hers. Whether that horror has any origin other than personal issues and a string of seemingly inexplicable coincidences--does it really matter? She feels an abyss yawn within her. We feel it with her. Likewise, whatever the "objective" facts can one doubt that the two women in her life experience a horror of their own? At the very least this girl they love descends into schizophrenia. Part of  what makes this a horror story is that we hope that's all it is! Because we can be no more sure than they are--which ends up the metaphysical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

Cam is the central role and Parker captures well her desperation. Not only in the face of what seems happening to her, but the reaction of those around her. She tries to find the words, not to explain, but to convince, and so loses her way with every breath.

Patella has in effect a harder part, simply because her character switches back and forth in time rather more often. Tricky. Made trickier because I'm not quite sure to whom she and Stern are talking. They have the unenviable task of spending much of the play's start talking to the audience rather than another actor. Very tricky. For that reason, the emotional involvement between ourselves and the cast takes longer than any of us would like. However, it gets there. And by the end, we're cringing. Not from any surgery acted out on stage or some revelation of personal darkness. No, this is Grand Guignol of the soul, of the perceptive mind, and we feel a little tug of the metaphysical hook in our own psyches.

The Miseries very nearly are dance performances rather than acting, but that does them insufficient credit. All four command the stage when they appear, leaving fascination and revulsion in their wake. Not at all an easy thing to do!

Kill Me plays at the Visceral Company's new permanent digs, the Lex Theatre 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood, 90038, at Lexington and Highland (a little north of Santa Monica Boulevard), Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm with Sunday matinees at 3pm. The final performance should be June 2, 2013. Highly recommended for adults who enjoy a disturbing, moving piece of theater than invades your awareness.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How I Would Do DR.WHO

Okay, this is about Doctor Who, a cult t.v. show I initially encountered way, way back in the 1980s with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor (we are now on Matt Smith as the Eleventh!).

In recent episodes, many fans seem dissatisfied with the show. Anyone reading this who isn't a fan will probably find what follows baffling. Especially since explaining would take way too much time. Pardon the pun. So I'm not going to.

As a fan, and a somewhat dissatisfied one, here I offer my suggestions of what might recapture the "magic." This isn't about Clara, however. I've no problem at all with the character or the story arc involving her on the show. These suggestions are for the show regarding the next Companion, maybe even the next Doctor!

First and foremost, I'd like to see a Companion who is not a pretty young girl! Contrary to popular belief, this would not in fact be a brand new development. I wouldn't mind an alien, a male, or simply someone older rather than in their twenties. I even offer a model of how such a chemistry might work--on another BBC show no less! Of course I mean the modern retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective, Sherlock. Not that I believe the almost-but-not-quite-homoerotic dynamic is needed, anymore than Sherlock and the Doctor are that close in weirdness or personality. But that model, re-imagined much as it is every time we see a new version of Sherlock Holmes, that would be something to explore and use in a fresh way! For example, an adult male with plenty of real world experience that comes in handy, shoring up the Doctor's weaknesses. Lord knows the Doctor can be extremely undiplomatic, whereas someone who handles such things extremely well might prove quite useful in terms of story. Also, this Watson-eque Companion could have his own story, his own secrets and issues in a way Rose and Amy never did.
Another thing to develop would be an antagonist. Frankly it might very well be The Master, as far as I'm concerned. He could well have survived what happened at the end of "The End of Time" (stranger things have happened, after all) and a new regeneration could give him quite the lease on life, a new face and a new agenda. In particular what about a version of the Master who's decided to woo the Tardis away from the Doctor? Lately the Tardis has come across increasingly as a subtle character in the show. Use that! Imagine the Master's convoluted plan to drive a wedge between the Doctor and the Tardis, to offer himself as in fact a better Time Lord with  which to travel, especially since this Master would be a new person in many ways!

I'll do a step further. Since we know Time Lords can regenerate into a different gender, why not cast a woman as the Master? The Corsair, we're told in "The Doctor's Wife," was sometimes a woman. I'll even make a casting suggestion. Someone will all the sleek elegance of a panther, who can convey a mind brilliant as that of a thousand-year-old alien, one of the great geniuses from a billion-year-old civilization. Yet can also appear surprisingly vulnerable. In this case I refer to Jaime Murray, late of Dexter and The Mystery of the Blue Train as well as Spartacus, Warehouse 13 and Defiance. The possibilities here really boggle the mind. Suppose The Mistress (to coin a pseudonym) laid traps for the Doctor, including somewhere the two of them share a past. Wouldn't we all love a hint of that! And if our Watson-Companion developed some feelings for this strange woman he encounters now and again?

Frankly I think The Mistress might provide a wonderful chance to see how a Time Lord sans all that vast technology might find a way to do things. A quick trip back in time? Find a Weeping Angel. Need to leave a message of sorts on an alien world? Send a carefully targeting message through a wormhole into a planet's past to set up a religion. And so on.

These of course are details, like the desire for a vaguely steampunk design to the Tardis control room.  More fundamentally, I'd want to see a few other tendencies brought to the forefront. One problem with this show is that it has gone on so long with so many stories, how can  you do something new? Well, in one sense you cannot, but that remains a problem with all story-telling in general. In effect Twilight as well as Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre are just re-tellings of Pyramus and Thisbe. Keeping things fresh and interesting depends on other things than pure, unadulterated originality. This such as...
  • Every set-up needs an equally powerful denoument. Frankly this is the eternal problem with some episodes such as "Lets Kill Hitler." I would argue that really great set-ups probably need a climax spread over multiple episodes. Probably.
  • Integrate guest characters with the regulars. Better than nine times out of ten, when this isn't done the stories don't work. "Blink" handled with as lightly as one can imagine. "Journey To The Center of The Tardis" frankly did not. The result was a weaker (although by no means bad) episode.
  • Return to clarity. This can be really really subtle, but given just how confused some watchers have gotten, I think it needs stressing. Honestly, that includes me. I still don't know who was behind events in "The Big Bang" or why. And I'm very bright! Not that I don't love me some mystery and some open-endedness! I do! But lately I've been getting right confused along with everybody else. Overload might well be why the mystery of Clara simply isn't interesting me as much as that of River Song or John Saxon.
  • Humor as a light in darkness. One reason my favorite Doctor remains Seven (Sylvester McCoy) is how very clown-like he often seemed, yet increasingly we saw that as a mask for an ancient wanderer full of horrible secrets and dreadful decisions. As with many things, 'tis a tricky balance to achieve. But Dr.Who requires that, with general use (I emphasize general as opposed to universal) of the following dynamic: The Doctor meets some folks who are treating something very, very seriously. He seems to grin and make light of everything, while revealing things are many times more serious than those folks ever dreamed. This need not be present for a good story. Look at "Amy's Choice" for example. But as a strong tendency this remains important.
For what it's worth, that is my opinion.