Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Planet of the Dead


Planet of the Dead wasn't quite as naff as I remembered it. It's fun in many respects, a proper old-school Doctor Who adventure story. It rattles along at a fair old pace, although I think it takes a little too long for the real threat to be apparent. There's no real villains because the horrible creature threat comes from something that's natural.

I think the problem is Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan). Lady Christina is a jewel thief of the Raffles school. In it for the thrills as opposed to the money, although she knows the value of the Cup of Athalstan so I suspect the money might have been part of it. She is the companion de jour and it doesn't quite work.

I don't think it is the actress, I just think there's not much genuine chemistry between her and the Doctor. However much the writer's try and crowbar it in with the witty banter and light flirtation. It just feels like everyone's going through the motions and as a result there's a little glitch with the whole story.

Also the dialogue seems not to have the right rhythm. It's trying to hard. Like the 'That's how I like things. Extreme." It just lies there. Flopping about. Perhaps I'm being harsh.

There's a scattering of other actors doing good jobs in minor roles. It's nice to see Noma Domezwani back again as UNIT Captain Erisa Magambo. An actress clearly far better than the part she's been given.

Meanwhile there's UNIT's scientific advisor, Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans). The first time I watched this I found Malcolm bloody irritating. This time I quite enjoyed it. Yes, it's a bit over the top but it just about works because he does manage to convey the brains behind the eccentricity. And if you're going to have a character like that - who is always going to play second or third fiddle to the Doctor - then getting someone like Lee Evans in to do the part is ideal.

There's also the problem of the Tritovores who seem to be there purely to explain the plot. They might as well be call the Expositionovores and it just makes it look like no one could work out a story that could fill an hour. But it does fit with RTDs fetish for animal aliens: Rhinos, Cats and - now - Flies. A throw back to The Web Planet. Perhaps everyone is too used to that 45 minute slot.

It looks great though. The Dubai location looks fantastic and it feels like an alien world. Not a quarry, which makes a change and there's something inherently dramatic about huge shots of the desert dunes fading out to the distance. Call it the Lawrence of Arabia effect.

So to cut this short. It's OK.

Oh and there's a little foreboding and foreshadowing of the Doctor's impending doom as one of the passengers, the rather sweet, Carmen (Ellen Thomas) is a latent psychic. She tells him at the end that his song will end soon and that he will knock four times.

The end is approaching. But first The Waters of Mars.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Next Doctor


The Next Doctor isn't bad. Being a Christmas Special it has that additional level of feel good cheesiness that seems to have become de rigeur, although we do get one or two hints at a far darker story here. Not just with the Doctor's story but in Miss Hartigan's (Dirvla Kirwan), in Rosita's (Velile Tshabalala) and in Jackson Lake's (David Morrissey).

In fact at points in this story we get to see the darker Doctor. The man with nothing to live for. The survivor. I've said before that in my head there's a dark, dark version of Doctor Who where a post-Time War Doctor burdened with survivor guilt and a death wish goes out there to fight the monsters and occasional, like here, there's a hint at that in RTD's Doctor Who. With the implication that it is his companions that have saved him. I suspect my version of Doctor Who would get cancelled in a week. It's RTD's great skill to tell good stories, with humour, but still give us a taste of the darkness.

RTD gets criticised - sometimes - for bringing too much humour into stories but for me Doctor Who has always had a splash of humour, even in the Classic Doctor Who years. The key - as Douglas Adams once said - is that the comedy doesn't encourage the actors to play it for laughs. They're not in a sit-com. They're in a family drama series. It's the difference between City of Death and Timelash both of which would be far different stories if the first were played like the latter.

Anyway back to the story. This is entertaining enough and I love the way we're plunged straight into the mystery. Who is this other Doctor? Why doesn't he recognise his younger self? And the gradual revelation is both rather nicely done and movingly played by both Tennant and Morrissey. You feel for both of them as the one's fate echoes the other.

And Morrissey's Doctor is brave and clever and resourceful. He's even built his own TARDIS  - the revelation of which is one of my favourite moments in the episode - so he's pretty cool all things considered. His companion - who is forced to live up to the clich├ęs - is Rosita. There's no real explanation of who Rosita is but Miss Hartigan's little dig implies that she is - to use a phrase of the time - a woman of ill repute. She's got guts though and like proper companions doesn't take orders from the Doctor particularly well.

The Cybermen are back. I don't like New Who Cybermen. I think that whilst they look rather nice all that marching makes them rather tedious and to be honest if there's one thing that my Doctor Who re-watch has taught me it is that Cybermen stories aren't generally very good (with a couple of honourable exceptions). On paper they're a horrific foe and the horror that they represent as a future version of us is rather good but it doesn't work often enough, although Big Finish seem to have cracked it on audio. Perhaps someone at the BBC should ask Big Finish for help the next time the Cybermen crop up.

Miss Hartigan is the human villain and fits into that long, long line of human allies of the Cybermen that fail to realise that at some point the Cybermen will turn on them. Miss Hartigan, whose clearly a woman with a strong mind, almost turns the tables on them though. Her story, which is hinted at, is clearly not a pleasant one and she's become hard and cold.

The problem with this story is that the ending just seems too easy. There's something vaguely cheating it. I can't quite put my finger on why but would Miss Hartigan really have gone from what she was to screaming self-destroying in such a short hop? This is a woman that was able to overcome Cyber Control and make them obey her. It just seems to undermine a strong female villain by turning her into a screaming hysterical girly in the last frame, which ends up blowing up the Cybermen and her for some bizarre and convenient reason. And odd though it is to say this I don't think it is fair on Miss Hartigan's character.

So whilst this is OK enough it's not the greatest of stories.

Applause for the Tennant and Morrissey whose 'Two Doctors' moments are quite fun. Plus the joy of a nice squee moment when we get to see all the previous Doctors via a Cyberman infostamp but in the end it is rather disappointing.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Stolen Earth-Journey's End


And so Series 4 comes to an end in spectacular fashion.

Admittedly some of that spectacular comes from the stupid end of the spectrum: dragging the Earth through space on a tow line to the TARDIS I'm looking at you. And judging you unfavourably. Very unfavourably. But also there's some spectacularly good stuff in there. The multi-layered cliffhanger that ends The Stolen Earth is stunning (and we'll come back to that).

Journey's End does a fine job of setting everything up for the finale, getting all our characters in place and is the better of the two episodes. In my humble opinion. And there's a lot of characters to pull together. We get Sarah Jane and Luke, Torchwood (Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto), Micky and Jackie from the parallel universe, Rose Tyler, Wilf, Harriet Jones and, of course, The Doctor and Donna. It takes some juggling to move them all around without it being chaotic and RTD does a grand job of that. It almost makes you wish RTD was writing the 50th Anniversary story because he'd definitely be able to handle multiple Doctors on a grand scale. And in once sense of course this does end up being a multi-Doctor story.

I also like the fact that when we get the reveal that it is the Daleks via their rather terse broadcast to the world those characters that have already met and know the Daleks react in fantastically terrified manner. It's the seriousness of the responses that make the Daleks seem so terrifying. These are the universe's ultimate killing machines so people should be scared of them.

Oh and I love the German Daleks. In fact that whole little section in Germany I rather like. It'd be nice to have a Doctor Who story or two set in Europe. For variety's sake.

So we build up to the climax. Harriet Jones dies sacrificing herself to find the Doctor. The Daleks have found Torchwood and Gwen and Ianto are fixing to die fighting. Sarah Jane has lept into her car and gone off to find the Doctor. Captain Jack too is about to arrive. It's all kicking off. And then we get the Rose and Doctor meeting scene. It's all looking a little saccharine for an episode but what's this? Lurking behind a van. It's only a bloody Dalek. And the Doctor's down. Badly wounded. Dying. Bloody hell he's regenerating. How did they keep THAT a secret...? Music. Titles. Godsmacked.

It's rather impressive.

However the follow-up is slightly odd. The Doctor doesn't actually regenerate. Or does he? He certainly blows up in spectacularly energetic style but then he using the energy to heal himself and pumps the residual into his old hand that he's been conveniently lying about the TARDIS for just such an eventuality.

So much meh.

Have Time Lord's always been able to do this? If so why 'use' a regeneration. Or does this count as a regeneration. Is Matt Smith actually Doctor Twelve (or Thirteen if we're counting John Hurt)? Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, not really but for some reason I find it bloody irritating. But that's just the grumpy middle-aged man in me.

Sarah Jane gets rescued by Micky and Jackie. Gwen and Ianto are saved by a Time Lock security system aka The McGuffin. Now we're talking.

Everyone rattles together coming up with various ways to bring destruction to the Dalek's: warp stars, Osterhagan Keys etc etc. But the Daleks are ready for all this.

Oh in the meantime The Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack and Donna. Donna gets locked in the TARDIS which is about to be destroyed and its not looking good for our heroes. Captain Jack dies. Again.

Everyone gets captured. Except Donna who has been saved by a new Doctor grown from the Doctor's old hand via a metacrisis (whatever) with Donna. The new Doctor is human-Timelord. He sneaks off to build a weapon on which to attack Davros (Julian Bleach) and the Daleks.

Ah...Davros. How could I have got so far in this review and not mentioned him? He's back. And he's utterly barking mad. Not quite as mad as the Davros in Big Finish's Blood of the Daleks who is truly loopy but pretty much as mad as a box of angry frogs. He's build a reality bomb. Sorry a REALITY BOMB that is capable of destroying everything everywhere in all universes. It's a big bomb and Davros isn't afraid to use it. Though it makes no sense and seems to just be an attempt to stick two fingers up at the rest of the Universe: if you won't let us conquer you then we'll bloody destroy you all.

Julian Bleach is brilliant as Davros. Not quite as good as Michael Wisher, who I think is outstanding in Genesis of the Daleks but pretty good nonetheless and I like the little moment between him and Sarah Jane when he realises who she is. The circle is complete indeed.

How the Daleks are supposed to get on after they've destroyed everything else is in the Universe is a moot point. Where will they get their supplies from? Who will they fight? They're a race that thrives on conquest who are they going to conquer if there's no one left? Surely it is a recipe for a Dalek Civil War? And which Supreme Dalek would trust Davros in the first place, especially a Davros who seems to be taking advice from a now loopy Dalek Caan.

Dalek Caan: also a mad as a box of frogs. Possibly madder than Davros. Possibly not. But referred to as 'The Abomination' by other Daleks (which can't be good for ones self-esteem) and apparently driven mad by forcing it way into the Time War and dragging Davros out during which it apparently saw 'time itself' whatever the heffelumping hellfire that's supposed to mean.

By this point all the plans have led to nowhere. The Doctor has been given a quick lesson in what an utter bastard he is by Davros, which is a bit like the kettle calling the pot black, but seems to upset him.

Then Doctor Ten Point One comes dashing in with Donna and fails to save the day but what's this. The REALITY BOMB has failed to detonate. How did this happen? Well it seems that Donna has had her brainwashed with the Doctors as part of the metacrisis that created the Doctor Ten Point One and knows how to say lots of scientific gobbledigook at a ridiculous high speed in order to explain that she's basically pressing some buttons.

The Doctor wins. Davros looks like he's going to die but not before he gives the Doctor one last - short - lecture on the inappropriateness of his behaviour. Everyone gets to pilot the TARDIS, which apparently needs six crew members to pilot properly now, which is fine. They then drag the Earth back to its proper place in the Universe by a sort of intergalactic tow rope attached to the TARDIS in one of the great comic scenes in Doctor Who history. Well, I laughed.

The Doctor drops everyone off at Earth. Captain Jack, Sarah Jane, Micky and Martha all drift off into the distance. The Doctor takes Rose and Jackie back to Bad Wolf Bay to say goodbye. Rose is a bit confused by this. She wants to stay with the Doctor but he can't but he can leave her with Doctor Ten Point One who is basically human. And basically him. (And in one of my favourite retro re-writes grows up to be Peter Cushing, which is wonderful.)

I'm not sure whether that's a nice thing to do or not. It's certainly a novel way of getting ride of a clinging ex-partner.

Then we're about to set off to the stars with Donna and the Doctor but alas Donna can't process the Doctor's mind properly and it's going to kill her so the Doctor has to remove all her memories of their time together (although surely someone is going to bring up what happened at her wedding at some point.)

All mocking aside Donna's departure is genuinely moving. It's played with genuine conviction by both Tennant and Tate and reminded me of the departure of Zoe and Jamie at the end of The War Games. I did shed a little tear and again when Bernard Cribbens had his little doorstep chat with the Doctor in the rain.

The end.

So the edited review. Great first episode. Not so great second episode. And I going to bloody miss Donna. She was fantastic. Best companion in New Doctor Who so far. FACT. (Actually OPINION)

Next up: The Next Doctor





Turn Left


Turn Left is pretty damn brilliant. A look at what might have happened to the world if The Doctor had died defeating the Empress of the Racknoss because Donna wasn't there to stop him. An elegy to the importance of companions in the Doctor's life if you like.

It also sees the return of Rose (Billie Piper) and UNIT headed up - in this instance - by Captain Mogambo (Noma Demezwani*). It's a 'Doctor-lite' episode with Tennant only popping up at the end to roll us into the next episode so Catherine Tate, with able support, has to helm this episode and does so in fine fashion, proving once more what an utterly brilliant choice she was as a companion and how good a character Donna is.

Rose's return is all rather dramatic even if Billie Piper looks a little odd. Like RTD got trapped in the Land of Fiction and had to reassemble her face Jamie and The Doctor style and didn't get it quite right. But that aside she too does an excellent job, especially portraying a rather more world weary and unhappy Rose.

Kudos too for the mighty Bernard Cribbens as Wilf. Cribbens is such a good actor that every scene he's in, whether it is comedic or serious, is lifted by his presence. Jacqueline King does her usual excellent work too as Sylvia Noble and she gets a bit more to do in this episode than just nag.

Perhaps the best guest performance though comes from Joseph Long as Rocco, a fellow London survivor billeted in Leeds with the Nobles and doomed to be driven off by the army as the post-apocalyptic Britain goes fascist. Fear makes companions of us all, the First Doctor said a long, long time ago, but actually it can make nasty little tyrants of us too. That was reflected not just here in Turn Left but also in The Doctor's Daughter and - most obviously - in Midnight.

Donna's final solution to closing down the alt-universe she's in is a brave and moving one setting up a slightly darker tone for the last two episodes of Series 4.

In my opinion Series 4 has been the consistently best of New Who. The quality of the stories, the performances (especially those of Tennant and Tate), the plotting and the shear unadulterated fun of the thing. This is RTD's best work, so far. Even the arc of the season has been built with some subtlety so that we know something is up but we're not quite sure what it is. Except it is bad. Very bad.

O and I like the way RTD sows the fates of The Doctor's companions into the plot of Turn Left and that Sarah Jane, Martha Jones, Captain Jack and Torchwood all get a mention (and it is another little bit of foreshadowing what is to come) and they all go out in this alt-universe defeating the monsters the Doctor should have been there to defeat. Illustrating that the Doctor's a THE proper professional in the field of monster defeating and what his companions are capable of without him even if, as in Martha's case, they were never to have met him.

And that was Turn Left a superbly crafted bit of RTD Doctor Who and possibly one of the all time great Doctor Who stories.

Next up The Stolen Earth - Journey's End




*I saw Noma Demenzwani in a brilliant play at The Hampstead Theatre called 'A Human Being Died That Night', based on Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela's book. I recommend both the play, in which Noma was excellent, and the book. You can buy a Kindle copy here . Advert over.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Midnight



So Midnight turned out to be rather fine.

A claustrophobic little number, with a fantastic cast and which - at points - was genuinely amongst the creepiest Doctor Who episodes ever.

It was Donna light as she stayed in the leisure palace getting some hefty sun rays whilst the Doctor decided to take a sight-seeing trip and as he says himself in the pre-credit sequence, 'What could possibly go wrong?'

The usual.

Even planets bathed in sunlight and made of diamonds have their shadows and if anyone can find a shadow it is the Doctor.

It starts with an engine failure, then there's a mysterious hammering on the ship's hull. And like knocks on a submarine in empty water it definitely rattles you and then...

Well then Lesley Sharp steps into the limelight and gives a genuinely disturbing performance as the possessed Sky Silvestry. First she's silent, immobile and staring and then she starts copying what people are saying, which is creepy. But then she's starts speaking the same words at the same time, which is really, really creepy.

At which point the passenger hysteria begins to build, although there's a hint that their increasingly argumentative nature is partly the effect of the thing - as I'm going to have to call it - that's taken over Sky.

There's some fine work from everyone in the cast at this point and as they - almost as one - turn on the Doctor you begin to think this is going to end badly.

Then Sky steals the Doctor's voice.

And at this point you are remind of precisely how brilliant an actor David Tennant is. Even as he's trapped, voiceless and about to be thrown out you can see the Doctor in there. Fighting.

At this point - even though I have seen this story before - I was genuinely on the edge of my seat. It looked like the manipulation of the thing plus the hysteria of the passengers was going to make this a bad trip for the Doctor.

Of course he survives but you get the impression from the ending that this really took it out on the Doctor and that this was one adventure he wasn't likely to get over quickly. Another sacrifice is made and the Doctor lives to fight another day.

There's a brilliant moment where one of the passengers, Val Cane (Lindsey Coulson), says 'I knew it was her' and the Doctor's look of absolute cold contempt is a wonder to behold. He knows what she tried to do. And she knows too, which is why her discomfort that follows is pitch perfect.

I think everyone in the cast deserves applause for this because it was so much about the people, their relationships and their fear that it would have fallen apart if anyone hadn't been up to snuff. There's David Troughton's slightly fuddy-duddy Professor Hobbes who might have problems re-building his professional relationship with his assistant Dee Dee (Ayesha Antoine) who is one of the few people who in the last terrible moments seems to keep her head.

There's also Colin Morgan, Merlin to be, as Jethro who also seems to be pretty sensible and who the Doctor seems to take a liking to.

Daniel Ryan as Biff Cane (husband of Val) does a good job of illustrating that special kind of male fear that displays itself through belligerence. He gets a lot of shouting. Him and Val make a very domestic kind of Lord and Lady Macbeth.

Finally there's the nameless Hostess who is the real hero of the piece. Who not only sees what's going on, like Dee Dee, but acts on it. Action is everything. Her namelessness makes for a rather sad little moment at the end.

I could rave about this even more but I think I've done enough.

For me this THING is the scariest monster (if it can be called that) in New Who so far. It certainly freaked me out more than the Weeping Angels ever have.

Brilliant stuff.

Summer Time: And It's All Been Very Quiet


So my loyal reader. How have you been keeping?

My apologies for the lack of updates. There's been - with a couple of exceptions - something of a summer hiatus here at The Patient Centurion. I wish I could give you a decent reason but I can't.

However things begin again from this weekend when I final get around to reviewing the final stories of Series 4. (Pause for applause & cheering etc).

The plan is then to finish reviewing Series 5, 6 and 7 in time for the 50th Anniversary Episode. And straight after the 50th Anniversary I'm going to go back to the beginning and cover the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee stories that I have yet to review. Thus making 'The Patient Centurion' complete. And I am nothing if not a completist.

I'm also (for reasons too insane to go into now) beginning a re-watch/watch of both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. At the moment I haven't any intention of blogging my reviews of either of these but you can follow my tweets about them - if that's your bag baby - on Twitter. Obviously. Where I lurk under the name of Lokster71, which I might change as I've come up with a cracking couple of alt-names recently.

Meanwhile I have opened a new incarnation over at The Audio Centurion where I shall be blogging all the audio related Doctor Who reviews & other gumpf I get my hands on: soundtracks, non-Doctor Who audio that grabs my attention, e.g. I'm very excited about The Avengers from Big Finish. But we shall see. The brief for The Audio Centurion is a bit up in the air at the moment.

I'd like to move the existing audio reviews from Patient to Audio at some point but that's not too urgent. And if anyone knows how to move a blog from one blog to another without too much tedious mucking about in hyperspace, I'd be very grateful.

So there you have it.

See you on the other side of Midnight.