Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Monster Mash-Up


Despite constant pleas from her fans, Dame Agatha Christie never had her two most famous characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, meet, let alone work together in a story.  Her reason was quite simple: she said she didn't think either would enjoy it.  When asked why she never had a Poirot/Marple crossover, she replied in her autobiography, "Why should they?". 

"Hercule Poirot, the complete egoist, would not like being taught his business by an elderly spinster lady," she added. Poirot was a professional detective, Marple an amateur one, so they would never truly fit in each other's worlds.

These words should be something Wholockians, who dream of having the TARDIS land in front of 221 B Baker Street and have the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes meet/work together, consider every time they fantasize about a Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover.  

Despite this, the characters did meet in a way.  Dame Margaret Rutherford, who had played Miss Marple in a series of successful films, made a cameo in an adaptation of The ABC Murders with Tony Randall as Poirot.  Even in this quick scene, I think neither really enjoyed their brief encounter.  It wasn't until 1990, during the Agatha Christie centennial celebrations, that Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple finally formally met.  The two actors best known as Poirot and Marple, David Suchet and Joan Hickson, met as the character, and by all accounts got on splendidly.

I mention all this because the two-part season/series finale Doomsday Parts I & II (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday), has two most famous Doctor Who monsters (the Daleks and the Cybermen) finally face off each other after nearly fifty years.   When one thinks longs and hard about this, while this might have pleased NuWho (and I imagine, some Classic fans), for me it was a bit of a wash (not to mention leaving some curious continuity issues), and if it weren't for some of the performances, Doomsday I & II wouldn't have worked. 

The Doctor (David Tennant) and his Companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) come to Earth to see Rose's mum, Jackie (Camille Coduri).  Jackie is delighted that her family reunion will be bigger, seeing as how Jackie's father is coming too.  That surprises Rose, since her grandfather is dead.  Nonetheless, something shows up.  Jackie is convinced it is her late father, and this phenomena is not strange.   Even the soap opera EastEnders gets in on the act, where we see a storyline involving the ghosts in the pub on television.  "Ghosts" have been appearing for two months now throughout the world, in specific intervals.  The Doctor is not convinced of 'the ghosts' and decides to trap one.

Meanwhile, at the infamous Torchwood, they have been conducting nefarious experiments to bring something from another realm to our world, and the Doctor traces the ghosts there.  Torchwood Director Yvonne Hartman (Tracy-Ann Oberman) is thrilled to see the Doctor, because now the TARDIS, like all alien technology, can be hers.  "If it's alien, it's ours," she declares.  In Torchwood you also have a strange sphere which does nothing.  We learn that it is a Void ship, which can travel between dimensions.  Jackie, having been mistaken for Rose, is taken with the Doctor, while Rose attempts to investigate on her own.  For once, the psychic paper does not work, but it does lead her to the Void Ship and to, improbable as it sounds, to Mickey (Noel Clarke) whom we last saw in the alternate world fighting Cybermen.  The Cybermen have escaped from their world and Mickey has now gone after them, with a few more surprises in store.

Oh, but this is just the beginning, for not only have the ghosts really turned out to be the Alternate World Cybermen, but that Void Ship has finally been activated.  Just when the Cybermen will all delete and reprogram humans on this world, out of the Void ship come beings that only Rose would recognize...the DALEKS!  That's right, the Daleks vs. the Cybermen in an epic battle royale for galactic domination. 

The Daleks are protecting the Genesis Ark, which is related to the Time Lords and the Time War.  The Cybermen, who prefer homogeny, are at first too busy converting people to really care, but soon both parties investigate the other.  In a Mexican standoff with a horrified Doctor looking on, the Daleks and Cybermen take each others measurements.  The Cybermen propose an alliance, which the Daleks (who recognize them while the Cybermen do not), immediately reject.  "This is not war.  This is pest control," the Daleks inform them.  When the Cybermen tell the Daleks if they can possibly defeat them with four Daleks, they reply that they can defeat the Cybermen with ONE Dalek.

Doesn't seem much of a fair fight, then, does it?

The humans fighting the Cybermen in the alternate world, including Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwell), now come to fight the Cybermen with the Daleks thrown in for good measure.  The Doctor tells them that he was at the Fall of Arcadia, which he will come to terms with somehow (sooner than we imagine).    We learn what the Genesis Ark is: it's a prison ship holding millions of Daleks.  How?  Well, like all Time Lord technology, it's bigger on the inside.  A terrified Jackie, having escaped Cyber-altering (which her counterpart didn't) finds Alternate World Pete and it all becomes confusing for them.  Yvette has been altered, but not enough for her to realize that she still can stop the Cybermen.  The Doctor sends them all through the Void to the alternate world, but Rose won't leave him.  However, as the Daleks and Cybermen are killing each other and humans all over the place, the Doctor and Rose manage to send the Cybermen into the void. 

However, she loses her grip and is sucked into the Parallel World.  Somehow the Doctor appears to her, where she informs him that Jackie and Pete are going to give her a brother (I'd rather not know) and that she loves him.  The Doctor loses the temporal power before he can answer, and now he is alone, except for the Bride who suddenly without reason appears in the TARDIS.

I imagine NuWhovians hit all the emotional buttons that Doctor Who 2.0 appears to play like master musicians.  I bet they squealed when the Daleks appeared at the end of Army of Ghosts, and cried their eyes out at Rose's farewell.  I don't blame them: NuWhovians have probably never seen any Dalek stories prior to Dalek, and probably believed that the genesis of the Cybermen was in Rise of the Cybermen Parts 1 & 2, not say something like The Tenth Planet.  Therefore, those pesky little questions of continuity wouldn't be asked by the lemmings NuWho fans have become.

Questions like, "If these Cybermen are from an Alternate Universe, how do the Daleks recognize them?"

Questions like, "If travelling from one Parallel World to Another was so difficult for the Doctor, how has become almost routine for the humans?"  (Was this just a way to throw Clarke into the mix)?

Questions like, "How is it possible for Jackie Tyler, who is at least 38 (by the most generous standard if she had been 19 when Rose was born, with Rose being 19 now), to be pregnant?" (It should be pointed out she was 45 at the time Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 was made). 

In short, Doomsday Parts 1 & 2, after a lot of reflection, didn't hold up for a wide variety of reasons.  I would put the biggest reason that the Daleks were...unnecessary.  The whole story would have worked just fine with just the Cybermen travelling from their world to ours, without having the Daleks anywhere in there.  I actually, again after a lot of thought, thought Doomsday would have been more thrilling if we had made them the exclusive villain.

Russell T Davies, in his script, probably thought having the two face off would thrill fans, and I know many who were.  However, for the casual viewer or one who had never come across either, the whole thing came off as laughable.  How do I know this?  Because I saw it for myself.  I had talked my very reluctant non-Doctor Who fan Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) into watching this 'epic confrontation' after the disaster of Love & Monsters.  When he heard the Dalek tell the Cybermen they could defeat them with ONE Dalek, Fidel burst out laughing.

He simply couldn't take any of it seriously afterwards. 

Even if it had been a tense moment (after two viewings, it still isn't for me), the actual battle between them was such a ridiculous thing.  The Daleks made mincemeat out of the Cybermen, and what is the point of having an 'epic confrontation' between two legendary villains if one is going to be a pushover?  I think Davies favors the Daleks and gave them all the power, cheating us out of what could have been a great confrontation.  Honestly, I don't understand why so many fans think this is good, because the Cybermen weren't all that impressive.

All that 'jumping through parallel worlds' seems equally silly, giving people an easy way in and out of things.

However, credit has to be given where it is due, and the final scene between Rose and the Doctor was beautifully directed and acted.  If Davies did anything right, it was to give NuWhovians what they love: a great excuse to cry their eyes out at a science-fiction show.  I honestly think that there was less crying at Schindler's List or a September 11th memorial than there apparently is in an average Doctor Who 2.0 episode, but that's for another time.

For most of Doomsday Parts 1 & 2, Piper's Rose came off as a bit whiny and clingy, but her final scene with Tennant is indeed quite moving.  Those who were worried that former pop star Piper couldn't deliver the goods have been proven wrong.  She and Tennant made an excellent team, and I can see why NuWhovians both rank Rose as one of the Greatest Companions and why they are so enamored of Rose & The Doctor. 

I don't share their views, but I can understand it. 

Tennant is in top form here.  He is authoritative, whimsical (the 3-D shades not looking as idiotic as they could have), and his genuine sadness at it all show why even Classic Who fans (most of them anyway) think well of Tennant. 

The other cast did well as well.  Coduri's innocence at having her 'father' return and her horror at being pursued, nearly altered by the Cybermen were excellent.  When she and Dingwell reunite, I thought THAT was more emotional than Rose & The Doctor's farewell.  Still not a fan of Clarke or Mickey (for too long he was a wimp, and now he's all action-star), but it wasn't bad.

This episode is important for another reason; as far as I can make out, the first time the Doctor says, "Allon-sy", which would become his catchphrase (for good or ill).   

Ultimately, the acting did Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 immense favors, because for me the story doesn't hold.  I admit that because I don't cry at Doctor Who, and don't get emotional at a character's good-bye, I don't have this passion this two-part story demands I feel.  I look to things like acting, plot, story, character development.  I am not easily impressed by flashing lights and big guest stars.

I can't shake off the idea that the Cybermen/Dalek confrontation was both a waste and rather uneventful, even boring.  I didn't get excited by having them meet.  Actually, I wish they hadn't.  In a curious turn, Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 upon first watching, earned an 8, then I found myself thinking that was too high, so down a point it went.  Then I kept thinking, "that Dalek/Cybermen thing just didn't work for me", and thought 7 was too generous. 

In the end Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 was good, not great, and despite its best efforts I hope we never get two villains fighting it out if the results are going to be as weak as this.


Next Episode: The Runaway Bride

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is More Bad Stories Like This


Fear Her has earned a reputation of being not just perhaps the worst NuWho story of all time (in the most recent poll, it ranked 192 out of 200, the lowest revived series episode in the rankings) but perhaps one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time (Classic and NuWho).  I was so appalled by Love & Monsters that I deliberately skipped Fear Her and ended my Doctor Who watching days with Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday), not watching again until at least Waters of Mars.  It is only now, in my efforts to watch every Doctor Who available, that I plunge into the one episode I deliberately skipped.  After watching Fear Her, I concur with the general opinion that it is pretty bad.  Well, perhaps not bad, but terribly weak, trying to find its way in what appears to be a good idea and then getting lost in its call for sentimentality and silliness.

The Doctor (David Tennant) takes Rose (Billie Piper) to London 2012, the opening day of the Olympic Games.  However, there is something evil afoot.  In a neighborhood where the torch will run past, children have been disappearing.  The old neighbor Maeve (Edna Dore) is concerned, but most of the neighborhood isn't too concerned with all this.  About the only parent who doesn't register concern is Trish (Nina Sosanya), who has worries of her own.  Her daughter Chloe (Abisola Agbaje) doesn't want to go outside, doesn't want to do anything other than draw.  She draws the children that have disappeared, which also come to life.  I believe Trish knows that the pictures come to life, because I think one of the pictures she has (that of her late father) has on occasion come to life.

The Doctor and Rose soon trace the disappearances to Chloe, whom we learn has an alien within her, the Isolus.  This is a lonely demon, part of a large group that were separated.  In order to make up for the Isolus' loneliness, she had made Chloe (whom it sensed was lonely too) draw her companions.  However, just as the Doctor is needed most, Chloe draws the Doctor and TARDIS, trapping both in the drawings.  It is now up to Rose to save the day (and apparently the Olympics).  She does so by finding the hottest place around (a filled pothole) that has the Isolus' tiny spaceship.  With the torch coming past, Rose is able to release the Isolus from Chloe and free her and everyone trapped in the pictures.  This includes all those at the Olympic stadium, which the Isolus trapped in a picture.

However, where is the Doctor?  It is at this point that we see that a man with a trenchcoat picks up the Olympic torch and races to the Games.  Now, with things restored, the Doctor and Rose look at the stars.  Rose dreams of perpetual travels with the Doctor, but he senses a storm coming.

After watching Fear Her I don't think it was a horrible episode.  It tries, it tries so terribly, terribly hard to be sentimental and thrilling, but there are so many things wrong with it that it all ends up failing badly.

First, the resolution to this crisis is so quick and silly that it boggles the mind how anyone thought it would resonate.  Oh, look, all the 'villain' needed was just a touch of love.  "Feel the love" I think Rose says as she throws the Isolus' ship into the incoming Olympic torch, and with that, the Isolus is able to leave Chloe.  There was no tension, no excitement, no sense of this having taken up our time.  It all seems too pat, to quick, for us to care.

Second, some of the performances were pretty bad.   I don't know if one can blame Abgaje for being terrible in this story (this as far as I know is her only acting job).  However, as bad as Matthew Graham's script is, Abgaje came across as whiny and obnoxious, someone I couldn't care for.  Same goes for her mother, who was weak and at times slightly dumb (she had one thing to do: watch that Chloe not draw, and she leaves her alone twice!).  Going back to Chloe for a moment, from what I understand the little girl favors her abusive father.

I also wonder whether having a major plot point be the brutal father was a good idea. 

Third, Fear Her has moments that are just embarrassing for all concerned.  Having The Doctor pop up and carry the torch may have been a nice patriotic touch but it only makes Tennant (and the Doctor) look foolish.  Really, what was the point of all that?  I also think that this whole 'love is the answer' bit is silly and trite, having no real reason and making it all a quick resolution

Despite all this, I kept thinking that somewhere in all this there WAS a potential for a good story.  The ideas behind it weren't all that bad, but the execution just didn't pan out.

Looking back at Fear Her, I don't think there was ever a real threat.  Even when we were given something of a threat (the evil father coming back to life), it appeared to be there only to stretch out the story.  I found Fear Her to be instantly forgettable, boring, and not worth our time.  Yes, it's bad.  Not horrible, just bad.

You've been a bad, bad girl... 


Next Story: Doomsday Parts I & II (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Axos of Evil


Before Greeks bearing gifts is the old saying.  What then when it is aliens who come and present offerings? The Claws of Axos does away with the ugly alien (mostly) by presenting a group of beautiful golden beings.  It doesn't do away with The Master, but at least here, despite having escaped The Doctor and UNIT's clutches, his presence does at least have a note of logic to it (which sadly would not always be the case in future Master stories). 

A strange vessel is headed to Earth.  The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) has to convince Minister Chinn (Peter Bathurst) that it might not be hostile, the idea of firing first and asking questions later so angering him.  The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) is caught in between: fearing that the ship is hostile but knowing the Doctor's got a pretty good track record on these sort of things.  The ship proves its worth when rockets Chinn orders fired fail, putting the Earth in danger.

The ship lands near a power plant, and while the landing and 'crew' don't appear to pose any real threat, a hobo that had been taken into the ship prior to UNIT and Chinn's arrival might disprove that idea.  Inside, however, we get strange goings-on: the American UNIT delegate Filer (Paul Grist), who has a mutual affection for the Doctor's Companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning), goes into the ship but is spared, being examined to have high intelligence that could serve useful.  When UNIT, the Doctor, and Chinn go in, the ship finds that the Doctor is alien too.

We also get another surprise.  Being held aboard the ship is none other than The Master (Roger Delgado).  This, however, is not know at the onset. 

The Axons offer UNIT a gift in exchange for taking some of Earth's energy supply to fly off: Axonite, a 'thinking molecule' that can reproduce anything.  It could end world hunger by increasing the size of animals among other things.  Chinn, always seeking a UK advantage, wants exclusive rights but the Axons want it spread worldwide.  The Doctor, however, is not convinced that this is all purely benevolent.

His theories and suspicions are proven correct.  While the other scientists are thrilled with Axonite, he finds that the ship, the beings within it, and the Axonite itself is all part of one giant entity.  When he tested the Axonite to see if it would do wonders, he accidentally triggered Axos' plan: to spread itself over the whole world and drain the life force of everything (and everyone) on Earth.  For Axos to succeed it needed 72 hours to spread everywhere, but the Doctor's test brought a controlled released over that part of England.

Meanwhile, the Master (who traded his services in exchange for his life), attempts a long game: he will get his revenge on the Doctor while also dump Axos and make his escape in the Doctor's TARDIS (given that Axos is holding his for insurance against such duplicity).  However, the Master is caught trying to use the power plants energy to power the TARDIS (oddly, I think the Doctor was planning this to get out of his forced exile) but he holds one ace up his sleeve: he is the only one who can stop the explosion Axos is going to unleash in the power plant, but it does mean destroying Axos itself, where the Doctor has been taken prisoner.  The Master gives the Brigadier a choice: save the Doctor and Jo or save the world?

The Doctor and Jo do manage to escape, and the Doctor learns that Axos wants to use his knowledge of time travel to now go and devour through space AND time.  It is here that the Doctor appears to join forces with The Master, telling him they could escape Earth together.  The Master helps him make the repairs to the TARDIS, and they materialize inside Axos.  Here, the Doctor tells them he will join both TARDI but instead traps Axos in a time loop.  The Master escapes to his own TARDIS in the chaos, and while the Doctor manages to free himself from the time loop he finds that his escape is short-lived: the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS to always return to 20th Century Earth to his great frustration.

"It seems I'm some type of galactic yo-yo," the Doctor retorts to a clearly-pleased Jo and Brig.

I can't say that The Claws of Axos is my favorite Third Doctor story so far, but I can say that despite some obvious limitations it is lifted by some of Pertwee's best moments as the Third Doctor. 

A big problem was both the sets and the effects.  In regards to the former they made me think of all things, an Ed Wood movie.  When I saw the Doctor struggle against the actual claws of Axos I could only think of poor Bela Lugosi trying so hard (and failing so spectacularly) to convince anyone that the monster in Bride of the Monster was real.  Just as Lugosi clearly was moving the tentacles himself, so anyone caught in 'the claws of Axos' appeared to be operating them (or that there were people flailing their arms to attempt to simulate movement).  Even what was suppose to be offices looked a little fake, and the actual Axos itself, while a good try, looked like a set.

The special effects similarly have not worn well.  The opening shot of the ship sailing towards Earth looks so rubbish and the actual aliens when unmasked looked like spaghetti come to life.  It is clear also when Axonite grows a frog that it is just an image being expanded or shrunk based on the plot's necessity. 

However, credit should be given where it's due, and Michael Ferguson's direction did manage to do great things with the story and the budget limitations.  Certain montages are creepy in their psychedelic weirdness, and when the hobo's body melted, what we saw was quite effective overall.  Ferguson also brought great performances out of everyone. 

Pertwee's performance in The Claws of Axos is I think the best so far of his tenure.  Pertwee was so convincing in Episodes Three and Four that I was never sure if he was playing a long game himself to deceive the Master and Axos (even if it meant misleading Jo and UNIT) or if he really did want to take advantage of the situation to try and escape his exile.  Pertwee managed to make us believe that he would work with the Master, that he might want to leave UNIT, and that maybe he was doing it all to save Earth. 

Manning also shows that Jo was fiercely loyal to the Doctor, and while the subplot of Filer and Grant maybe wasn't as explored as it might have been, both Manning and Grist communicated that they were interested in each other.  Comic relief of sorts was provided by Bathurst, who as Chinn (I imagine a pun on his weight and his double chin) clearly made the minister a total idiot.

Here is where Bob Baker and Dave Martin's screenplay allows for great subtle humor to show up.  In Episode Two Chinn communicates with his superior.  "Minister, will you scramble or shall I, sir?" he says.  The voice on the other line says, "Just your report, Chinn.  I'm sure that will be quite garbled enough."  Chinn does not get the meaning behind the message.  As we go through The Claws of Axos, we see he (and government officials in general) are shown as dunderheads. 

Delgado is equally brilliant as the Master, that mixture of menace and charm working to full effect.  In some ways, his naivete of joining forces with the Doctor and believing that perhaps they could escape is almost sweet.  However, when he threatened the Brigadier to either save the world or save the Doctor, there is a coldness to him that says it might be logical, but it wouldn't pain him to see his nemesis killed.     

We also see Courtney's Brigadier to hold his own, his frustration with bureaucratic blundering clear, and also his hesitancy to allow the Master to try to destroy Axos with the Doctor and Jo within.  The Brigadier genuinely struggles with this, albeit briefly, but for a man who blew up the Silurians without batting an eye this moment is an evolution for him.  He's not the singularly military mind at all, but one who is weighing the costs of his decisions.  I'd say that the Doctor too is taking some notes from the Brig, for he suspects something sinister in something that appears so benign.

The Claws of Axos suffers from some weak-looking sets and effects, but it moves fast and has great performances.  I think that if it had been a six-part story, it would have been disastrous. However, at four it works well, has witty moments, and have a few twists and turns that make it if not as good as it could have been, certainly a story worth clutching.   

The very best of enemies


Next Story: Colony in Space

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Worst Doctor Who of All Time. OF ALL TIME!


When the revived Doctor Who came in 2005, I was like so many NuWhovians are today.  EVERY episode was BRILLIANT, every story was EPIC, everything was THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.  OMG Rose Tyler is the GREATEST COMPANION OF ALL TIME!!  OMG Christopher Eccleston is the GREATEST DOCTOR OF ALL TIME!  OMG David Tennant is the GREATEST DOCTOR OF ALL TIME!!  OMG! Lady Cassandra is BACK! OMG!!! Sarah Jane Smith is BACK!!  WOW...The Doctor met Madame De Pompadour!!!


Then came Love & Monsters, and I was violently awakened from my Doctor Who slumber.  For me, Love & Monsters marked a demarcation line.  After this episode, I became more cynical, more ambivalent, more suspicious, towards this sci-fi program.  I realized that I could no longer give Doctor Who a free pass just because I was a fan.  Love & Monsters is more than appallingly bad.  Love & Monsters is a flat-out insult to Doctor Who fans, and ever since I have looked on NuWho with a jaundiced eye.

I had not seen Love & Monsters since it premiered, and looking back at it the memory of Love & Monsters is actually worse than the episode itself.  That doesn't mean Love & Monsters will ever be reevaluated: it is still a simply inexcusably bad episode.  However, it is not as horrifying the second time round as it is the first time.  Still, Love & Monsters will never an episode which a non-Who watching person should ever see as their first Doctor Who story. 

Told primarily through the video recording of Elton (Marc Warren), we hear of Elton's fascination with The Doctor (Tennant), whom he has crossed paths with on many occasions.  He was there when the Autons attacked, when the Slitheen arrived, and when the Sycorax threatened the world. He also has an earlier encounter with Tenth, but more on that later.  Online, he manages to contact Ursula Blake (Shirley Henderson) who is also a believer in The Doctor ("Doctor What?", Elton asks, showing that Steven Moffat didn't write this episode).  Soon Elton and Ursula meet other believers: the quiet Mr. Skinner (Simon Greenall), the chatty Bliss (Kathryn Drysdale) and the endearing Bridget (Moya Brady).  They begin at first to try to find the mystery of The Doctor, but soon LINDA (London Investigating N Detective Agency) starts becoming a bit of a social club and soon all but forget looking for The Doctor.  They bring snacks, Bridget shares about how she comes to London to find her drug-addicted daughter, Mr. Skinner begins reading from his unfinished novel, and soon they all form a garage band of sorts (Elton, despite his name, is a big Electric Light Orchestra fan).

The fun and games (not to mention their rendition of Don't Bring Me Down) comes to a brutal halt with the arrival of Mr. Kennedy (Peter Kay).  This mysterious figure, all draped in black and who cannot touch or be touched due to a skin condition he says, tells them he will bring them back to their mission.  They soon begin to do hard work, following every lead that comes their way.  Among those is the beginning of Love & Monsters: Elton's encounter with the Doctor and his Companion.  After a quick investigation, we find this Companion has a name, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and her mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri).  The ever-tarty Jackie takes a shine to Elton, even going so far as to attempt to seduce him and getting him through subterfuge to get his shirt off.  As Elton contemplates a romp, Jackie calls it off after receiving a call from Rose, which puts her out of a romantic mood.  Elton by now has decided to give up these espionage ways and start a platonic friendship with Jackie, but she finds a photo of Rose and the TARDIS in his jacket, and promptly throws him out.

By this time LINDA has been reduced to three members.  Bliss and Bridget have disappeared and the others don't really question or follow-up on their friends.  Elton, backed up by Ursula, tell Kennedy to get lost and begin to leave.  Kennedy manages to hold Mr. Skinner back, saying he has news on Bridget (with whom Skinner has fallen in love).  However, we find he disappears when Ursula and Elton return almost immediately to get her phone.  Here, we discover that Mr. Kennedy is really a monster, literally.  He is an Abzorbaloff, a monster who absorbs other creatures.  He has absorbed the other members of LINDA, and managed to absorb Ursula due to his touch.  The Abzorbaloff goes after Elton, but he is saved by the Doctor and Rose, who have tracked him down so Rose can give Elton a right dressing down for having upset Jackie.  The Abzorbaloff threatens Elton, but Ursula, Mr. Skinner, Bridget, and Bliss (all of whom are still within the Abzorbaloff) pull together to pull him apart.  Still, it is too late for them save Ursula, who through the Doctor's 'magic wand' (Elton's words, not mine), is able to restore her somewhat.

As for Elton's first memory of the Doctor, it seems that the Doctor had chased down some creature to Elton's home, but was too late to save Elton's mother.  Still, Elton quotes Steven King, "Salvation and damnation are the same thing," and at least Elton and Ursula are together.  They even have a bit of a love life...or as much of a love life a man can have with a woman who is basically a large piece of cement.

Talk about giving head...

Insert Where?

Doctor Who has had some real clunkers in its fabled history. Starting from the First Doctor story The Web Planet right on through the Second Doctor story The Dominators or The Fifth Doctor's Time-Flight and the Sixth Doctor's Timelash,  it would be fair to say that every Doctor has had at least one bad story (though Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor has more than his fair share).  However, I have seen the Doctor Who episode so atrocious, so hideous, so repulsive, that it killed the series for me. 

How HORRIBLE was Love & Monsters?  It was so bad...HOW BAD WAS IT?...It was so bad I refused to watch the succeeding episode Fear Her because the trailer came out at the end of it, and I wanted NOTHING to do with anything connected with Love & Monsters

How HORRIBLE was Love & Monsters?  It was so bad...HOW BAD WAS IT?...that after stumbling through Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday) I flat-out REFUSED to watch Doctor Who.

That's correct.  I QUIT watching Doctor Who.  It wasn't until The Waters of Mars that I returned, and that was only because I knew David Tennant was leaving the series.  I missed the Master, all of Martha Jones and Donna Noble, and the 'meta-crisis' Doctor, all because I was so utterly disgusted by Love & Monsters that I could no longer give my time to something so flat-out hideous.

It isn't even the oral sex thing that damns Love & Monsters (though frankly that doesn't help).  It as if Davies wanted to deliberately insult Doctor Who fans, not just with this story, but with the whole LINDA concept.  The members all seem to be rather lonely, a group of misfits who find little outside their fixation on The Doctor to fill their lives.  Even the things they do have seem rather sad (did Davies think Bridget looking for her drug-addicted daughter shouldn't have a resolution).  All I could think of was that poor Bridget's daughter was out there, homeless, high, with little hope of ever recovering and no chance of they ever reuniting.  Is it me, or am I the only one who finds that cruel?  Putting these people and have them come to grisly ends is so, so wrong. 

However, the story itself is idiotic and illogical on so many levels.  Who exactly is Elton relating this story to?  It looks like he is putting this video online, so we have to ask who exactly is his target audience?  Furthermore, why is he talking at all, and why does he interrupt his video with his dancing to Mr. Blue Sky...twice?  With Elton telling us about his encounter with the Doctor and Rose, the story starts off well, but as soon as we cut to Elton telling us the story, all the menace is lost.  Instead, we get treated to Doctor Who doing a Benny Hill skit with the Doctor, Rose, and a monster running around.  I really was waiting for Yakety Sax to start playing as they ran across the various doors.

I also question why Kennedy would so easily take power over LINDA.  No one objected to him bullying his way and taking the fun out of things, no off-sight meetings where they talk about how unhappy they are with him there, and no sense where any of them asks whatever happened to the missing members.  You'd think they would have each other's e-mails or phone numbers, but apparently they didn't.  We also get the rather horrifying sight of Jackie so nakedly trying to get at a man she barely knows (though in fairness, even though Warren and Coduri are the same age, he looks much younger, so at least it is no longer as sick as I originally thought when I thought he was somewhere between Rose and Jackie's age).  Throw in the flat-out insulting bit of Rose dressing down Elton when he's about to be devoured by the Abzarbaloff.  Is she stupid or just so whiny that she misses the point of all this?  Even the Abzorbaloff looked at her with a puzzled expression, as if he himself couldn't believe the Companion could be so daft.

Finally, the entire "Oh, I saw your Mommy get killed thing" is so appalling on so many levels.  How does Elton forget his mother getting killed, and why is the Tenth Doctor involved?  Was Rose with him in all this?  Given that Nine regenerated to Ten with Rose with him, and there hasn't been evidence she has left him for any period of time, where does Mrs. Pope's death fit within their adventures?  Come to think of it, Elton shouldn't be obsessed with the Doctor.  Elton should try to kill him.  The Doctor has been inadvertently responsible for his mother's death, his friends death, and his love interest's death.  Given all that, why does Elton LIKE the Doctor?

A big hurdle for Love & Monsters was that the monster was created by a nine-year-old boy.  William Grantham (no relation to Downton Abbey's Lord Grantham) won the Blue Peter "Design a Doctor Who Monster" Contest.  The obvious question is, "Why?"  How bad could the other entries have been if the winner turned out to be so horrendous?  It doesn't seem fair to beat up on a child, but the entire decision to hand over a major part of a Doctor Who story to a child seems like a daft decision.  It certainly opens up the production to charges that, "it's so easy even a child could do it", which in this case, a child did.  Grantham stated that he envisioned the Abzorbaloff to be the size of a double-decker bus.  I would have hoped it would have been envisioned to be...well, interesting.  The Abzorbaloff (I always wonder whether he should have had a Russian accent) has only the vaguest reason for being an antagonist, and a pretty weak one too. 

The performances were almost all bad.  I thought well of Warren, but apart from him everyone else was either awful (Kay) or slumming it (Tennant, Piper).  The comedy fell flat, the drama was overwrought, the horror was not, and in short Love & Monsters is an ugly mess all around in every manner. 

Love & Monsters was a deeply troubling and traumatizing episode, and not just for the 'love life' bit Elton threw in at the end.  Put it down to my hopelessly naïve nature, but the first thing I wondered when Elton said that was, "How could they have a love life?"  It took a while, and then I thought, "Eww...".  Russell T Davies may deny it all he wants, but the inclusion of an oral sex joke in a children/family show is the lowest point in Doctor Who history.

In the final analysis, the actual memory I have of Love & Monsters is uglier than the actual episode itself.  Time has healed the horrifying, traumatic experience I had with this episode.  I can look back at it without actually vomiting (as I did the first time, which was my exact reaction when I saw Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi).  However, while the passing of the years has softened the actual viewing experience of Love & Monsters, the story itself remains a sad and sorry embarrassment to all concerned.  I would rather watch River Song in a ménage a trois with the Eleventh Doctor and Madame Vastra (which I figure many Whovians would LOVE to see) than watch Love & Monsters

I survived Love & Monsters, and thank God I NEVER have to watch it again... 

I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry...
Well, you should be!


Next Episode: Fear Her

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Works of The Devil


The two part The Impossible Planet Parts I & II (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit) introduce a new alien species, the Ood, and to my memory this is the first NuWho story where the aliens are actually memorable.  We've had monsters and villains in NuWho (The Lady Cassandra comes quickly to mind), but in many respects the Ood are different.  The Ood are not just one of the best NuWho aliens/monsters to originate with the revived series.  The Impossible Planet Parts I & II is also the first great story of David Tennant's tenure, a breathless, fast-paced story that reminds me of Classic Doctor Who at its most inventive.  It has the requisite terror aspects, incredible performances from both regular and guest stars, and tension that isn't relieved until the end.  The Impossible Planet Parts I & II surprised me at how much I got into the story.  It's been several years since I've seen it, and at least for this one bright shining moment I found myself doing something I have not done in a long time: love NuWho and think that it truly has achieved par with some of the best stories of the Classic Era. 

The Doctor (David Tennant) and his Companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) arrive on a mysterious space station.  It is a sanctuary station, one manned by the Ood, a slave race that does so willingly.  The humans here are a motley crew, but one which wants to discover the secret of the world they are in.  The planet  is K37 Gem5 or Krop Tor, The Bitter Pill.  What makes this such an 'impossible' world is that the planet is suspended within a black hole.  Instead of being taken within the black hole, Krop Tor maintains itself there.  The kind of power to hold itself in place without being swallowed by it apparently is so great it would take the power of six to the power of six every six seconds.  As they deal with the crew: acting Captain Zachary Flane (Shaun Parkes), Ethics Commander Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti), archaeologist Toby Zed (Will Thorp), science officer Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook), Security Head Mr. Jefferson (Danny Webb), and Mechanical Trainee Scooti Manista (MyAnna Buring), the Doctor and Rose realize they are now trapped there, the TARDIS having been swallowed up by the planet into the pits.

Oddly, the TARDIS going down is the least of their worries.  The Ood, a docile group who communicate via orbs that allow them to speak, soon begin muttering very frightening things.  "The Beast and his armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God."  Toby is soon possessed by a mysterious entity, and the Ood soon go from docile to dangerous.  They tell the horrified Doctor and crew that the one who has taken them goes by many names: Abbadon, Krop Tor, Satan or Lucifer, the King of Despair, The Deathless Prince, The Bringer of Night, the Devil.  The Ood have now gone mad and are besieging the base.  Under the possession of this force, Toby kills Scooti, and perhaps literally all Hell is breaking loose.

Marks of The Beast
With everything devolving into chaos it now is up to the Doctor and Rose to work separately to save themselves and everyone.  The Doctor and Scott had gone down to the depths of the planet prior to the Ood uprising and found the Pit, which has now opened.  Rose, left behind and temporarily cut off from the Doctor, takes charge.  The Captain, however, has authorized Strategy Nine: total evacuation of the planet and escape via a field that comes from the black hole which can hold gravity and not be dragged down.  The Beast, the being that has taken over the Ood, wants to break free from his imprisonment, and the Doctor now believes that the Beast is an ancient being who has spread evil across time, and has entered into myths and legends of all faiths (such as the Arkiphets, the Church of the Tin Vagabond, Christianity, and Neo-Judaism among others). 

Rose believes that the Doctor would have urged them to not give into despair but to think their way out of their situation.  With the Captain, besieged but still in control of the power, he guides Rose, Mr. Jefferson, Toby and Danny away from the rampaging Ood, though Mr. Jefferson falls behind protecting them and dies when the Captain is forced to cut his oxygen off to save the others.  Unbeknown to them all, Toby is still possessed by the Beast, and he escapes with the others.  Rose is determined to wait for the Doctor to return, but Strategy Nine won't allow anyone to stay behind, so the crew grab her and force her to the rocket. 

Scott, contemplating her own impending death, helps the Doctor go down to the Pit, where he meets the monsters.  He realizes that the Beast wants to escape but that now it is only the body that remains.  The mind of the Beast is now free, and if the Doctor tries to destroy the body he risks killing everyone.  Despite this, the Doctor does strike at the Beast, knowing that if there is one thing he believes in, it's Rose Tyler.  The body is destroyed, but a horrified crew discover that Toby is still possessed, and he now is going to use the ship to escape as Krop Tor is slowly going into the black hole.  The Doctor, who now has found the TARDIS, gives Rose hope, and with that she quickly manages to fling Toby/Beast into space, and with Scott rescued the Doctor now helps the rocket escape the black hole's pull.  Sadly, the Ood cannot be rescued, but Captain Flane recognizes their sacrifice by noting in the record each Ood's death, with honors, along with Toby's.

The Impossible Planet Parts I & II astonished me in its inventiveness, its fast pace, its terror quality, and in how good everything was.  Let's start with the two lead performances.  From the moment Tennant and Piper appear, literally laughing at the thought of danger, we see the rapport they have as Doctor and Companion.  Tennant is allowed to make great speeches about what The Beast is, and his declarations of "Brilliant!" are not words of praise but astonishment, which an attribute that can be applied to Tennant himself in the two-part story.  He moves so easily from calm to manic, courageous to thoughtful, that he runs through so many emotions without missing a beat.  Piper's Rose can be a bit clingy, but here at least we see that the stakes are terribly, terribly high and her fierce loyalty to the Doctor is not done out of erotic love but of genuine affection for her friend. 

The guest stars all fill their roles so well you'd think the odds of one of them stumbling would take, but none of them go wrong.  Thorp's Toby Zed (curiously, Zed is the non-American way of pronouncing the letter 'Z', so could there be something there?) goes from frightened to frightening with ease, where one feels sympathy and horror in quick succession.  Seeing his final end made me a little sad, given that Toby was another victim of the Beast.   Parkes' Captain was all business, and he did command the screen whenever he was on.  Webb's Mr. Jefferson was also excellent as the strong security chief, Jhutti's Danny lent lightness and/or fear when needed.  While Buring had a smaller role her final moments of terror sent chills down the spine, and Rushbrook's Ida Scott served as a great candidate for Companion if things had turned out differently.  She went from inquisitive to resigned so well. 

I can't find one performance that was bad or off, and this is not just credit to the individual actors but also to James Strong's apt directing, which kept things moving but which allowed for moments of rest when required.  The pacing was incredible, where the story flowed fantastically without feeling rushed or padded, and there are some beautiful visual moments (such as when in Part II the Doctor is suspended in total darkness, just him in the center). 

I think there is also something subliminal, perhaps accidentally so but still visually striking. Whenever we see the Doctor and Scott walking around in the dark with their space suits, is it me or do they look like Death, skulls moving about?  It adds another element in the 'chilling' aspect of The Impossible Planet I & II, which appears to borrow heavily from Aliens in not just the space station but in the story of having to do battle with a monster that devours all.  The story also appears to echo Dante's Inferno from The Divine Comedy, where in the lowest level of Hell Satan is bound rather than serving as Ruler of the Underworld (though if memory serves correct Shaitan, the Islamic term for Satan, was frozen rather than chained). 

Matt Jones' screenplay uses the motifs of Judeo-Christian theology (the idea itself of the Devil, the subtle quoting of Scripture when the possessed Ood say "We are the Legion of the Beast", the opening moments where the Doctor and Rose are greeted with a 'Welcome to Hell' written on the walls) and trusts his audience to understand what he is referring to.  Moreover, the idea of religion and faith is treated with respect.  The Doctor is not presented as an atheist or a believer of a specific theology.  Rather, when the Doctor states the various faiths that exist in the universe (which does raise the question of how Christianity spread throughout the universe or what Neo-Judaism looks like), he is stating a fact.  He does not pass judgment, he does not ridicule faith itself (in fact, he asks Scott if she has any particular faith, and she says she was brought up Neo-Classic Congregational.  These elements make things familiar without being specific, as if this world could exist. 

The score for The Impossible Planet I & II works so well (deliberately creepy with the elongated violin notes, mournful when at Scott's farewell to the Doctor there is a solitary violin) and the visual effects also work excellently. 

If I were to have any caveats about The Impossible Planet I & II is that we are constantly told how something is 'impossible'.  I counted at least eight uses of 'impossible' in the two episodes.  It was soon becoming silly how nearly everything was 'impossible'. 

As a side note, what I find bizarre is the Matt Jones has never written another Doctor Who story after The Impossible Planet Parts I & II.  While he wrote one Torchwood story (Dead Man Walking), Jones has yet to write again for the Doctor.  Given a.) how good this two-part story was, and b.) how awful repeat Who writers like Toby Whithouse, Gareth Roberts, and yes, Steven Moffat have been, I can find no reason why Jones has not returned for more adventures.

The Impossible Planet Parts I & II left me breathless, excited, totally involved in the story.  It had a fantastic performance by David Tennant, who held our attention and commanded the screen as The Doctor.  It had an equally great performance by Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, who reminded us of why so many fell in love with her as a Companion, mixing strength with compassion.  The guest stars are brilliant.  The story moved and felt epic, worthy of a two-parter.  I truly can't find fault in it. At least in this case, I give the Devil his due.


Next Story: Love & Monsters

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

You've Got To Change Your Evil Mind


The tricks of the mind are nothing new to The Doctor.  In The Mind Robber the whole story was built around how one being, The Master of Fiction, manipulated the space travelers to build up his universe.  In The Mind of Evil, we see another Master attempting world conquest by appealing to humanity's desire to 'improve' the mind.  The Mind of Evil does a wonderful job of integrating the Master into the story to where we believe it is possible to have him behind the machinations and not just a convenient villain to use, and while I quibble at a few aspects on the whole I was surprisingly pleased how well The Mind of Evil worked both visually and storywise.

The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and his Companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) go to Strangmoor Prison to see the Keller Process.  Through a machine, criminals can have all their negative impulses removed, making them docile but functional members of society.  Barnham (Neil McCarthy) is the latest criminal to undergo the Keller Process.  This time, some things remain the same: the prisoners are in an uproar whenever the Keller Machine is used.  Some things, however, are different: under the eye of Professor Kettering (Simon Lack) the Keller Process creates a particularly painful reaction to Barnham.  The Doctor is fiercely opposed to the Process and insists the machine be destroyed.  Needless to say, he is ignored, even after two people end up dead near the machine, including Kettering, who died by drowning in a dry room.

In a seemingly unrelated story, UNIT Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) has his hands full with a World Peace Conference.  The Chinese delegate's security detail, headed by Captain Chin Lee (Pik-Sem Lim) comes to the Brigadier with various complaints.  The Chinese delegate's room has been robbed, despite round-the-clock surveillance from UNIT.  However, she herself has stolen the papers, under some form of mind control.  The Chinese delegate now turns up dead, and despite his objections the Doctor is forced back to UNIT HQ by Captain Yates (Richard Franklin), with Jo staying behind.  The Doctor puts things together when he learns that a Chinese girl (Captain Lee) is missing, because a 'Chinese girl' had assisted the mysterious Professor Keller in installing the machine.

Professor Keller unmasks himself (literally).  It is The Master (Roger Delgado), plotting a wild scheme for world domination.  UNIT has been placed in charge of destroying The Thunderbolt, a missile so dangerous it has been universally banned and will be destroyed.  He will take it and use it for blackmail, and failing that, launch it at the Peace Conference and start a world war.  The Master takes advantage of a situation at Strangmoor: a riot where the next person up for the Keller Process, Mailer (William Marlowe) attempts an escape but only manages to take over the prison, taking Jo as a hostage.

The Master offers Mailer a chance to escape with a fortune if he helps him use the prisoners as a private army to seize the Thunderbolt and use it against his enemies, especially the Doctor.  The prison changes hands repeatedly: Jo manages to start a counter-revolution and the guards briefly retake Strangmoor until the Master leads the counter-counter-revolution.  The Doctor is now forced to help the Master, especially since the Keller Machine (which contains a parasite that uses a person's greatest fear to kill them) is growing out of control.  It soon takes a life of its own, moving at will and apparently killing at will too.

The Brigadier learns the Thunderbolt has been taken and mistakenly believes the Master took it to Strangmoor.  Leading a daring raid, he retakes the prison (saving the Doctor and Jo in the process) but discovers through Captain Yates, who was taken prisoner, that it is being stored in a warehouse not far.  The Doctor makes a bargain with the Master: the missile in exchange for the dematerialization unit he took from the Master's TARDIS in their last encounter.  The Master agrees.  Barnham is brought along with the machine because he no longer has evil impulses and thus the machine has no power over him.  However, in the chaos of the confrontation between the Master and the Doctor the machine, the Thunderbolt, and Barnham are all destroyed.

Worse still, the Master has managed to recover his dematerializing unit, while the Doctor is still stuck on Earth in his forced exile on orders of the Time Lords.

The Mind of Evil is a rarity in that it is one of a handful of non-Dalek stories where at six episodes, it does not feel stretched out.  In fact, every ending works, leading to a more and more exciting conclusion.  Even the fact that we had few settings (Strangmoor dominated the story) and that the Peace Conference was basically forgotten by Episode Three does not hamper The Mind of Evil one bit.

Screenwriter Doug Houghton had some brilliant ideas within the story.  Chief among them was to keep the Doctor, the Master, and Jo basically separated for almost half of the story.  It allows for the Doctor to solve this mystery of who is behind the Keller Process and the attacks at the delegates, for the Master's scheme to be exposed, and for Jo to take a more proactive stance.

Certainly Katy Manning is in top for in The Mind of Evil.  She is not the sweet-but-dim Companion she was in danger of becoming.  Instead, she comes across as a kind person (she is hit especially hard by Barnham's death) but we also see that she is unafraid.  Without the Doctor to help her in any way, she uses her wits and inner strength to literally kick-start the short-lived retaking of Strangmoor from Mailer and his lot.  What we see in Jo Grant is a girl who is strong, brave, and endearing. 

It is also a great showcase for Courtney, who is allowed a bit of humor when in Episode Five he goes for a Cockney accent when masquerading as a lorry driver.  Courtney and Pertwee work so well together, allowing for great humor to lighten up a series of killings.  When the Doctor is taken to see the Chinese delegate, someone mentions the delegate speaks a specific Chinese language.  Referring to the ethnic group, the Doctor says, "So he's Hokkien," the Doctor states.  "No, he's Chinese," the Brigadier replies.  As usual, the Brigadier missed the point of the Doctor's comment, making him both a bit thickheaded but endearing.

Courtney and Pertwee show how great a duo they make when in a tense opening to Episode Six, we find it is the Brigadier who saves the Doctor from Mailer's gun.  "Thank you very much, Brigadier," the Doctor says, then adds snappishly, "but do you think for once you can come BEFORE the nick of time?"  The unflappable Brigadier merely looks on and says, "Good to see you again, Doctor."  Here we see how strong and deep their relationship is.

As for the Doctor and the Master, we get a master class in performing.  Pertwee gives the Doctor a full range of emotions: he is light when arriving at the prison, serious when he sees what he believes to be wrong, terror when the machine attacks him, respect when speaking to the Chinese, and a whiff of anger when he realizes the Master can get away while he can't.  Delgado makes the Master a calm, cool, elegant figure, a worthy adversary to the Doctor.  However, we are allowed to see under the veneer of suave calm there is a deeply frightened figure. 

Nothing captures this more than when we are shown the Master's greatest fear.  Each person who has come under the power of the Keller Machine dies by what they fear the most.  For one, it was rats, and another, water.  The Doctor is almost killed when he relives the horror of an exploding world (flashbacks to Inferno).  As for the Master?  His greatest horror is The Doctor Laughing Triumphantly over him. 

Director Timothy Combe has some simply brilliant moments in Mind of Evil.  Granted, the special effects on Classic Doctor Who were never the most avant-garde or lavish, but Combe did wonders with what he had.  The Keller Machine's power of disorientation is done with distorted images and twisted camera work.  There is a beautiful transition from the Doctor to the Master in Episode Four that is astonishing.  Dudley Simpson's score is in turns chilling and exciting.

If there were anything to quibble over it is that yes, some of the special effects are noticeably bad.  The Thunderbolt's appearance is so patently blue/green screen it doesn't even match.  The 'Dragon' that appears in Episode Three is similarly laughable, so much so that its appearance is cut down considerably so as to not draw attention to how fake it is. 

I would also argue that the whole 'parasite inside the machine' bit never worked for me.  It didn't go anywhere and I would have preferred that the Keller Machine just be the Master's own creation that spun wildly out of his control. 

Finally, it should be mentioned that the restoration work on The Mind of Evil is simply brilliant.  The Mind of Evil was virtually lost, and while filmed in color only black-and-white copies existed.  However, the colorization process was worth the wait and release delay, as I was completely unaware that it was not the original print I was watching, but instead a painstaking restoration.  The story simply never looked better.

Minus a few hiccups The Mind of Evil gives one a worthy villain, an exciting series of episodes, and some fine bits of acting and action.  Combining this with great music and camera work we find that in the final analysis, this is indeed a beautiful Mind

Honestly, Jo, who'd think I'D "talk Baby" or 'Horse',
let alone hop up and down
screaming about a 'Golden Ticket'?


Next Story: The Claws of Axos

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Matt Smith Autopsy

I lost count of Who I Am,
but focus on the fez.

Steven Moffat never had a 'Master Plan' for Doctor Who.

A 'master plan' suggest that something will be long, but that it's been worked out, step by step, and that at its conclusion you can follow the clues to the same conclusion presented.

That isn't Doctor Who.

Moffat's three years as showrunner on Doctor Who show that he doesn't just make things up as he goes along.  He just makes things up.

If there were a 'master plan', there would be cohesion, continuity, and consistency in Doctor Who.  There just isn't, no matter how hard the Moffia (his fans, those who think every word he writes either for Doctor Who or Sherlock is holy writ) insists.

A fool will always find
a greater fool to admire him...

Weeping Angels die if they look upon each other (Blink).
Weeping Angels DON'T die if they look upon each other (The Time of Angels).
Weeping Angels die AGAIN if they look upon each other (The Time of The Doctor).

Little Amelia is left waiting for The Doctor all night, and he doesn't come back until many years later (The Eleventh Hour).

Little Amelia is left waiting for The Doctor all night, but he does come back in the morning to tell her of all the adventures she will have (The Angels Take Manhattan).

And I won't even get into the Many Deaths of Rory What's-His-Name (Williams?  Pond?  Pond-Williams?  Williams-Pond?).

When you can't even keep a character's last name straight, you can't claim a 'master plan'. 

It isn't just that Doctor Who under Moffat has had no sense of continuity within the three seasons he's been in charge.  However, that isn't to say that isn't one of the major problems Doctor Who has.  Story threads that are given are never answered.  It's been two episodes since The Name of The Doctor and I'm STILL waiting to find out exactly HOW the Doctor and Clara got out of his timestream in Trenzalore and get back to Merry Olde England in The Day of The Doctor.   I have a sense that such questions will never be answered, because all Moffat Era stories (not just ones penned by him, but by his minions) rush through things without seeing a need to answer points of logic.

Take the end of The Crimson Horror.  Here, we see the two annoying children present Clara with evidence of her past adventures as perhaps the Doctor's first part-time Companion (has she ever really travelled in the TARDIS in two consecutive stories, I wonder).  Among the bits she is shown is a photograph of herself aboard the Soviet submarine from Cold War.  When I saw that, all I could ask was, 'who was taking pictures inside what I thought was a secret submarine?'  I don't think stories are meant to provoke such questions.

The photograph thing is also something I wondered about while watching The Day of The Doctor.  Just how did UNIT get pictures of people they neither worked with or who were technically both not yet born and already dead by the time the Zygons were making their play for Earth?

If that is perhaps being nitpicky, let us briefly look over how Doctor Who casually either ignores or flat-out erases Canon from both the Classic and even NuWho Eras.  In The Trial of a Time Lord season, we were introduced to the villain of The Valeyard, the amalgamation of the Doctor's dark side that comes between his twelfth and final regeneration.  That being the case, the Valeyard should have been somewhere in the last season once The Time of The Doctor established that Smith is technically the Thirteenth Doctor.  However, that did not happen. 

I'm sure a convoluted answer can be provided how something introduced in Canon in 1986 was ignored in 2013.  However, the easiest answer is almost always the best, so here it is: NuWho fans who know nothing of anything that came before Rose simply hadn't heard of the Valeyard so it was easy to ignore and dismiss pre-Rose Canon for their benefit.

Kind of a drag...
In regards to NuWho, it is amazing how things change from one producer to another.  When David Tennant's Tenth Doctor had an abortive regeneration in Journey's End Parts I & II (The Stolen Earth/Journey's End), we were told by Russell T Davies that it was not, repeat, NOT an actual regeneration.  Now, with Davies' successor Steven Moffat, we are told that it WAS an actual regeneration.  Even worse, with the introduction of John Hurt's 'War Doctor', the entire numbering that had been pretty much undisturbed since 1966 was thrown completely out of whack.  Still, despite what really is an exercise in nonsense is dismissed by the Moffia.  When we were told Ninth was still Ninth, Tenth still Tenth, and Eleventh still Eleventh the Moffia went through all sorts of contortions to show how Hurt's 'War Doctor' was not an actual regeneration (despite all evidence to the contrary). 

Now that Moffat has reversed course, enshrining it in The Time of The Doctor, the Moffia now say that Matt Smith is somehow bizarrely still The Eleventh Doctor but the Thirteenth Form of the Doctor (as The Nerdist put it). 

As a side note, The Nerdist is basically a whore for Moffat.  Chris Hardwick has metaphorically rimmed Moffat so often he ought to have 'Moffat's Bitch' tattooed on his forehead.  The Nerdist, which insists is the repository of all things nerd/geek-related, knows which side of its bread is buttered, and it will never contradict any proclamations 'The Moff' makes regardless of how contradictory or illogical it may be. 

Yet I digress.  Doctor Who now, if we go step by step, story by story, is a collection of illogical bombast where every episode sets fans crying.  I truly am amazed how much time NuWhovians spend crying over Doctor Who episodes.  It's getting to where a single Doctor Who story causes more tears than Schindler's List, Casablanca, and It's A Wonderful Life combined.  Honestly, the only time I remember coming close to crying at a Doctor Who story was at the final episode of Planet of the Spiders, but at least then we had two things that are missing from NuWho: genuine acting and stillness to which to appreciate it.  No sappy/loud Murray Gold music needed to play for Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee, just solid acting and great dialogue.  It must be the quietest regeneration in all of Doctor Who, and I think still the best precisely because it was so still, so soft. 

You know, Jon Pertwee always HATED
silly costumes, feeling they diminished the Doctor's authority.
Then again, what would Jon Pertwee know about being The Doctor?

As I look at the Matt Smith Era, I am filled with such a sense of disappointment.  I started out liking Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, but by The Vampires of Venice my enthusiasm began to waver.  Once we got into Doctor Who as River Song & Friends with Special Guest The Doctor, things started sliding downhill.  Now, with his tenure as the Eleventh/Thirteenth Doctor at an end, I find that the stories have been abysmal.  Part of the problem is the writing.  Moffat is blessed with having the Moffia.

Moffat never needs to provide answers.  He knows that the Moffia will either never ask questions or will repeat like robots any answer 'The Moff' gives, no matter how illogical or ridiculous.  If confronted The Moff and his Minions will dismiss it all with a 'they are too stupid to understand the intricacies of it all' rather than actually answer the objections. 

The stories, particularly this last season, have been lousy.  The average score for the Eleventh/Thirteenth Doctor has been a dismal 3.  By comparison, only three Classic Who stories so far (The Gunfighters, The Web Planet, and The Dominators) have scored lower.  The fact that only three Classic Who stories earned a lower score than an average Eleventh/Thirteenth Doctor story says something about where the series is at.

I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.

A part of the problem in the Smith Era has also been Smith himself.  His interpretation has been described as 'child-like'.  I take objection to that description.  The Eleventh/Thirteenth Doctor is actually an idiot.  His era has been built on little catchphrases ("XYZ are cool", "Geronimo!") and randomly bizarre behavior.  He appears nude for no reason.  He uses his handy-dandy sonic screwdriver to where it becomes a virtual magic wand.  He waves his hands more than he does his handy-dandy sonic screwdriver and does some really nutty things, like insist Santa Claus is real and named 'Geoff'. 

Smith has become highly popular, especially in America, but that popularity I think stems from the fact that he has turned the Doctor from a heroic figure people of all ages can rely on to save the day to a gibbering nutjob who hops up and down screaming about his 'Golden Ticket'.  A successful lead character has to have a sense of authority.  This is why Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes or Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard have been successful.  They can be odd, goofy, even comic, but they still have a sense of gravity to them.  Smith quickly threw that out the window with his take on the Doctor as this bumbling half-wit who did the worst thing possible...defer to other characters.

Take River Song.  When she 'landed' the TARDIS without the familiar whooshing sound, she remarked that the TARDIS wasn't suppose to do that, that he 'left the parking brake on'.  Never mind that all other TARDISes we've seen in the show's history (the Meddling Monk, the Master, the Rani) all made that whooshing sound.  Never mind that people who could operate the TARDIS better than the Doctor (his granddaughter Susan Foreman or the Time Lord Companion Romana, whom I discovered some 'Whovians have never heard of) kept that whooshing sound.  By this little bit of dialogue, Moffat and Smith diminish the Doctor.  Worse, the Doctor, rather than reply that River is wrong, merely says that he likes that sound, showing that River is right and the Doctor, the lead character, is wrong.

It isn't just with River that he cedes power.  The new main character has been the same-sex bestiality of Silurian Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint.  Since when do others rescue the Doctor? 

For myself, I am so glad Matt Smith is going.  He was in no way my favorite Doctor.  I truly don't have a favorite Doctor.  My view has always been that of the Brigadier, "Wonderful fellow.  All of them".

All of them...except Matt Smith.

Finally, if Peter Capaldi (the Twelfth/Fourteenth/First Doctor of a New Regeneration Cycle) is not allowed to make the Doctor the daring and dashing wise man, if he is made to basically do Matt Smith's Doctor, Doctor Who may please NuWhovians/the Moffia who are easily pleased, but both Classic Whovians and average run-of-the-mill viewers will reject the show and it may continue to make money but the quality, the intelligence of some truly great stories from the past, will be forever gone. 

Doctor Who will appeal only to those like the person I sat next to at the Day of The Doctor screening, who said, "It's not suppose to make sense.  It's British!"