Sunday, October 20, 2013

Victory of the Daleks


OK people this might be something of a rant so forgive me. I loathe Victory of the Daleks. I loathe the re-designed clumpy, colourful Daleks clearly designed with merchandising in mind. It's an object lesson in re-designing something to make it worse. Raymond Cusick must have wanted to take a large metal spanner to them.

On the other hand the Ironside Daleks look lovely. It's a clever little conceit.

I loathe the glib way it handles World War Two. The way it takes a series of clichés and makes them seem even more clichéd still. I loathe the way that the loss of one WRAF women's other half is thrown away to show the sorrow of war. As if Mark Gatiss doesn't trust us with the concept of war and loss. The annoying thing is that he's could have made his point so much better through Bracewell (Bill Paterson) and almost does.

The best scene in this is their attempt to talk Bracewell in to his humanity. The fact that the Doctor, not being human and filled with so much grief, can't do it and it needs Amy to do so is rather nice. It takes a human to humanise. (And there's a distant echo of the Doctor's own story in there). So kudos for that to Mr. Gatiss.

And whilst we're on the subject of things I liked I should admit to liking the Doctor's Mexican stand-off with the Daleks armed only with a Jammy Dodger and a brain. I like Spitfires in Space, even though that makes no sense. I like Spitfires though so I'm inclined to be generous. I like Ian McNeice's Churchill too and the fact they get him to say Nazi in that distinctively Churchillesque way. I like Bracewell. I like Karen Gillan in this too.

But it really is rather awful. It's certainly Gatiss's worst script so far. I mean the references back to Power of the Daleks would be fine if this script were even a tenth as good as that. Oh there's the 'amusing' Broadsword/Danny Boy reference too, which is oh so hilarious.

The thing is I know this is Doctor Who World War Two, which is Indiana Jones World War Two (and even Where Eagles Dare World War Two). It's not meant to be a documentary and Doctor Who is probably not the place to tell harrowing tales of the War, which is why the throwaway weeping WRAF officer at the end is so out of place. It's tonally wrong.

It's as if Gatiss (or someone else) thought: "Actually this script is fine but we need someone to represent the sacrifice of the British people. Forget about the two Marines the Daleks exterminate or the two Spitfire pilots who die attacking the Dalek saucer, they're just the usual throwaway dead of Doctor Who. Let's make our point in five seconds using a weeping woman. Yep, job done. Would you like a cup of tea?"

I know I'm making a lot out of this but it really, really annoys me.

Even Matt Smith struggles to make this work. I think - with the exception of the Jammie Dodger scene and a couple of little moments - this is his least impressive episode so far. The thing is I don't blame him. I blame the script and the direction.

This might be one of my least favourite episodes of Doctor Who ever.

Anyway, I'm done.

At least it wasn't boring.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Beast Below


What can I say about The Beast Below? Well, it has its moments but mostly it is pretty average. Which is OK. Not every story can be a work of genius and after The Eleventh Hour anything was going to be a come down. Well, almost anything.

Once more though the highlight of the episode for me was Matt Smith's performance as the Doctor. How good or not this episode is I'd have watched it just to see what Matt was doing. Throughout this he's wonderful. From his analysis of the darkness at the heart of Spaceship UK all the way through to the end. There are three highlights for me.

There's the little moment when he explains - as indirectly as possible - that he's the last of the Time Lords without making a huge song and dance of it.

Then there's the moment where,  having looked at the 'tail/sting things' (that's my technical term for them and I'm sticking to it), he turns to Amy and explains that they really shouldn't have come. It becomes obvious later that he can hear the pain of the Star Whale, which he allows the human beings to hear. It's an echo of the scene in Planet of the Ood where the Doctor let's Donna hear the Ood song. In a way there's a thematic echo there to: what humans will do to enslave and control others.

Finally there's virtually the whole last five minutes or so when he tells Amy off for trying to stop him knowing something, even if it is something terrible (although she still won't tell him about her wedding at the end) and his speech, which ends with him saying something along the lines of: "And then I'll have to change my name because whatever I'll be afterwards I won't be the Doctor."  [An interesting line that in view of what happened at the end of The Name of the Doctor but I'm jumping ahead again. Damn this knowing stuff thing.]

His response to Amy's little speech about the Space Whale being the last and how its age and loneliness just made it kind is also nice, although it is laid on with a trowel a bit. I don't mind being moved but I do slightly object to being so obviously manipulated. Perhaps I'm being harsh.

So watch this to watch Matt Smith in action.

I'm still not sure about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan. There's some nice bits 'n' bobs in here and I do think there's some nice chemistry between the her and Matt Smith but she still seems to be feeling her way in the part. Maybe that's harsh again just because Matt's just taken his part by the scruff of the neck.

Again there story isn't really the thing, although I love the idea of being allowed the choice to forget and The Moff's low opinion of human nature that makes him think that we'd be horrible enough to do it. We can't face the truth. It's another kind of perception filter really.

The throwaway line about Scotland wanting its own ship is rather funny as is the idea that the rest of the UK was so inept they almost got burnt to a frazzle because they couldn't get a spaceship up and running in time, whilst the rest of the world did. Including Scotland.

Oh and we get a little glance at one of those cracks again. In time and space. Oooh with these story arcs you are spoiling us. [Must resist this cynical tone]

Again a series of excellent actors flash by in small-ish parts but kudos to Sophie Okonado as Liz 10, the reigning British monarch (but obviously this Moff future Scotland is a republic). She plays her as a bit less posh than the current mob of actual royalty but that's reasonably apt and I do like her story echoing that of her subjects in terms of forgetting and remembering is rather nice.

See now I've written all that I feel I enjoyed it rather more than I thought. Hmmm, I really haven't got my head around this review lark.

Terrance Hardiman as Hawthorne does a fine job to, although he obviously is the one person on Starship UK that actually is aware of the whole terrible truth: the banality of evil. Or more truthfully another in the long line of Doctor Who people who believe the end justifies the means. Hence the police state, the Smilers (which are oddly sinister to start off with and then mildly disappointing when 'released')

Any road up to cut a long review short. It's not bad. Better probably than I felt at the beginning but not great.





Friday, October 18, 2013

The Eleventh Hour


And so it begins. A whole new era. It's Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and - something I didn't particularly hammer on about in the last Tennant blog - the departure of RTD as showrunner and his replacement with the man who I am hereafter going to refer to as The Moff.

It's a pretty good first story actually and Matt Smith is bloody fantastic from the off. Like Troughton in Enemy of the World Smith is the star of the show. He's Doctor-ish as hell and his youth - which worried me when he was cast - is utterly not an issue. Somehow he seems to be able to carry the weight of a person far, far older than his looks, which is quite a skill. He gets some lovely little bits 'n' bobs to set up to the character but it is his 'Is this world protected' speech to the Atraxi that stamps his authority all over the part.

That and the Fishfinger Custard.

So fantastically cast as he is he rips through the episode. And he bounces off of young Amelia (Caitlin Blackwood) in some style too, which is to her credit as well. They make a good team. But, as we are to discover, this being The Moff there's timey-wimey stuff to be had.

The Doctor jumps into his damaged TARDIS for a quick bit of repair and promises to come straight back. Well, in five minutes.

Obviously he doesn't and after some light-hearted japes we're introduced to Amelia the Elder (Karen Gillan) hereafter called Amy. She's dressed as a Police Woman. She's a kiss-a-gram. I've commented on The Moff's women elsewhere so I'll ignore this all for the moment.

Which brings me on to a slight problem with reviewing this episode. It's the baggage of knowing the future. Of knowing the clues and hints in the episode to the arc that will unfold across this season, the next season and yea even unto the very end of the Moff's era itself. Whenever that will be. You get the impression that the Moff has decided how to end the Eleventh's story as he begins it, although I could be doing over-estimating his deviousness.

So it's impossible to watch this with entirely fresh eyes.

But back to Amy Pond. She's got a bit of oomph about her but it might be early days to comment on her good-bad qualities. Gillan doesn't hit me from the off like Matt Smith but I think that's partly because I like Caitlin Blackwood's Amelia better I think but obviously you can't have a small child as regular companion so Amy it is to be.

There's a couple of stylistic bits 'n' bobs here. The Doctor's analysis of what he missed whilst looking at all the people videoing the Sun is technically interesting (and can be seen as lying a bit of a foundation for The Moff's Sherlock...and damn I'm looking ahead again) but possibly a bit annoying if it is going to happen every week.

Loved the Prisoner Zero/Perception filter stuff. I love the idea of perception filters as a thing. We've all got perception filters - just look at how people react to Prime Minister's Questions depending on their political beliefs regardless of what's actually happening in front of their faces. The whole idea is explored magnificently in China Miéville's, The City &The City but I digress.

It's also another one of those episodes with a series of brilliant actors in tiny little parts, which is either a sign of Doctor Who's increasing pull, a love of the series amongst actors and/or good money. I suspect the former, rather than the latter. Here we've got Annette Crosbie, Olivia Coleman, Nina Wadia and Patrick Moore (admittedly playing himself but it is still a remarkable thing surely.)

Oh and there's a nice turn from Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Amy's boyfriend. I wonder whether we'll see him again he says in heavily sarcastic tones. He's actually very good and sparks of Matt Smith remarkably, even if - for the moment - he's the comic relief.

There's some sowing of seeds for future episodes via the incredibly well informed Prisoner Zero: The Silence will Fall etc. How Prisoner Zero knows this I don't know. Probably some kind of inter-dimensional Facebook.

The basic story isn't much to write home about but then it's a Doctor introduction story so we don't really care too much. It's all about getting us to meet the new Doctor, his new TARDIS interior (which looks lovely btw), his new companion and his new sonic screwdriver. And that it does rather well.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dreamland


Dreamland is a bit of an oddity. An animated story broadcast in six parts (originally) on various BBC website type things. It's actually quite hard to review because in the end it is mostly harmless.

The story drags in a handful of clichés from various bits 'n' bobs: there are Men in Black, there's Area 51, there's Native Americans protecting aliens from a rabid US military led by Colonel Stark (voiced by Stuart Milligan. Oh and then there's two types of alien (three if we exclude the good Doctor himself): the Viperox, led by Lord Azlok (voiced with his usual excellence by David Warner) who are militaristic bugs and the 'Greys' (who look like the aliens of abduction mythology).

It's basically Doctor Who does the X-Files but without Mulder & Scully. Even the Native Americans would slot right in to the X-Files Universe. The only problem would be Scully's nervous breakdown on the realisation that Mulder was right and that there are aliens.

Instead of Mulder & Scully the Doctor gets assistance from Cassie Rice (Georgia Moffet sounding remarkably like Nicola Bryant doing Peri imo) and Jimmy Stalkingwolf (Tim Howar), a waitress and a Native American farmhand. I think.

Anyway the story for what it's worth rolls along rather nicely. There's good guys, bad guys and confusion. There's a bit of Red baiting from the Colonel, who does at least end up being less nasty than he began the story, which is nice.

The Greys were the last survivors of a race the Viperox had all but wiped out. Rivesh Mantilax (Nicholas Rowe) had developed a genetic weapon designed to wipe out the Viperox but was...oh look basically the Viperox are not very nice and the Doctor won't let Rivesh Mantilax wipe them out. No one has that right says the Doctor. In Fourth Doctor style.

Rivesh's wife, Saruba Velak (Lisa Bowerman), has been on Earth and in Area 51 since 1947. She's the Roswell Grey...see what I mean. It's like someone put a series of X-Files plotlines in a hat & drew them out to write this.

Look I'm beating it up a bit and that's unnecessary really. It's a mostly harmless, reasonably entertaining collection of clichés. It even has lots of Doctor Who running, which is a shame as the running is the weakest part of the animation.

That's it.

It's OK. You don't ever have to watch it but you won't feel like you've made a terrible mistake if you have forty-five minutes or so to spare to watch it.

I really should learn to take these things less seriously.

Really.

Or get out more.

Anyway after that I fancy watching some X-Files.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The End of Time Part I and II



And so the end has come. The Tenth Doctor unwillingly exits, all the talk of 'knocking four times' is finished. The Tenth Doctor has ceased to be.

Now before I talk about these stories in particular let me just briefly say how much I enjoyed re-watching the Tennant era. I hadn't re-watched much of it since original broadcast so that helped I think. Series 4 in particular was fantastic but there were highlights throughout.

Yes, Tennant's Doctor can be arrogant, selfish, glib and over-human. Yes, Rose's repeat exits suffer from the law of diminishing returns and yes, the 'dragging the Earth across the Universe' scene at the end of Journey's End still makes me want to bang my head against the table. O and let us never speak of Fear Her again. But balanced against that were School Reunion, The Girl in the Fireplace, Love & Monsters (No scoffing at the back), Gridlock, Human Nature-The Family of Blood, Blink, Utopia, Planet of the Ood, Silence in the Library-Forest of the Dead, Midnight, Turn Left and The Waters of Mars.

So it's been fun. In a way it reminded me of how I felt re-visiting the Fifth Doctor's era: more fun than I remembered.

But what of The End of Time I hear you cry impatiently.

Well, it has great moments. It has a ridiculously annoying cliffhanger at the end of Part 1, which seems to be based purely on the chance to get in a line about 'The Master Race'. A-ha-ha. Oh and all that 'Book of Saxon' bollocks at the beginning of Part 1 is positively embarrassing. What next magic spells?

The best bits throughout the stories for me are the moments between The Doctor and The Master and The Doctor and Wilf. The quiet moments between all the excitement. They're emotional in the right way. The moment when the Doctor realises that the sound in The Master's head is real for example being tremendously well-played by both Tennant and Simm; their quiet chat in Part II when they're wondering what they would have become without each other; the last stand as the Doctor tries to decided who to kill in order to end Gallifrey's return. All brilliant.

Then there's the Doctor and Wilf (Bernard Cribbins). Again scene after scene where their brilliant together: the café discussion, the scene in the Vinvocci Space Craft when Wilf is trying to get the Doctor to take the gun and that (almost) final scene in which we realise the significance of Wilf to the Doctor. Yes, the Doctor's tantrum doesn't seem that Doctor-ish but then how many Doctor's have had a long, long warning of their impending regeneration? Even The Fourth only had the Watcher about for a short moment or two.

Also the scenes between Wilf and The Woman (Claire Bloom) are rather lovely too. I especially like Wilf's response to The Woman saying that he'd never taken a life.




The big set pieces leave me pretty cold. The Vinvocci Space Ship attacked by missiles scene with added Star Wars rip-off doesn't even look that good. There's some pleasure in seeing the Time Lords returning but they're surprisingly uninteresting once they're up and running plus what's with Rassilon's 'Magic Hand'? And although it's great to see an actor of Timothy Dalton's stature playing Rassilon I think he's rather wasted. He gets to do a lot of booming voice bad guyery but that's about it. Give the man something excellent to do.

On the subject of actors being wasted stand up too David Harewood, who does a fine job as Joshua Naismith but again you ask why such a brilliant actor gets such a limited part. Yes, his relationship with his daughter borders on the creepy (and I hope I'm not the only person who thinks that) but fundamentally I think he's wasted in the part. Give the man something to get his teeth into.

And what about The Master? Well, I prefer John Simm's performance in this to Sound of Drums-Last of the Time Lords and he does a wonderful job with Tennant in some of the scenes I've outlined above. The question is though how do you bring the Master back from that? He's realised what the sound is in his head. He's no longer being driven mad by it. He realises he's been manipulated by the Time Lords. He sees that the Doctor isn't prepared to kill him and he's prepared to save the Doctor. Then he seems to be dragged back into the Time War at the end. Even if you can bring him back, how can you bring him back as the same old Master. He has to have changed*

The other issue with this story of course is the long ending, the Doctor's 'reward'. Now I don't actually mind this too much and some of it is rather nicely handled (although I'm not too enamoured of the Mickey-Martha marriage. It seems a bit throwaway but hey ho.)  It's an extended farewell to a whole era and if you like just a glorified version of all those disembodied heads that swim around a regenerating Fourth and Fifth Doctor.

The big problem of course is that regeneration is now set-up as a BIG thing requiring build up and an over-hanging sense of doom. So big is the part and so big the series now that you can't just have the Doctor's regeneration happen as a part of a story but it has to be the focus of the story. But then perhaps I'm just being unfair. Thinking about it that's been t he case almost forever. Regeneration is a big thing and in a way this regeneration reflects back to the Fifth Doctor's. After all the big threats - The Master, the Time Lords and their bizarre plan etc - the Doctor sacrifices his life for one single person. For Wilf.

And that's rather lovely.

So to cut a long blog short. It's not bad this but I like it more for the quiet scenes than for the rushing around.



*I have a pet theory of my own that if The Master came back he should be The Meddling Monk. Still a little bit dodgy but not a galactic psychopath. I know. I know. But I like it.