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Doctor Who – Review – Amy’s Choice – Spoilers

Low self-esteem reaches new heights.

Synopsis

Leadworth, circa 2015, Rory and Amy Wiliams (nee Pond) are on the verge of having their first baby when the Doctor returns to their lives, five years after leaving them.

Not everything is as it seems, though as they all wake up aboard the TARDIS back in “regular” time. The Doctor is confronted by the mysterious Dream Lord, who hates the Doctor, and he sets him a challenge: One of the two worlds is real, one a dream. If they die in the dream world, they awake in the real world. If they die in the real world, they die. To add an element of urgency to the proceedings, the TARDIS goes powerless and begins plummeting towards a “cold star” while in the Leadworth world, the OAPs reveal themselves to be alien-infested invaders and begin killing everyone in town. Ultimately, Amy must decide if her future lies with the Doctor or with Rory.

Analysis

This is an unusual Doctor Who story and one that deconstructs along interesting lines, but ultimately, the story fails for me, but only just.

We are presented with two different Doctor Who stories; the Leadworth and TARDIS stories. Their dilemma is to figure out which one is real, but as presented to the audience, there can only be one choice: Leadworth is the fake. (You’ll note, I said “…as presented to the audience” Consider, with Leadworth we have to take the most untold story to set it up. We know that the Doctor, Amy and Rory were on the TARDIS at the end of the previous story and Rory was going to travel with them. We have to accept that they’ve skipped five or more years to accept that they’re living back in Leadworth.

Also, the TARDIS storyline is fatalistic, in that (it appears) that the Doctor is powerless to stop them from dying and doesn’t even try. It is, in effect, the ticking clock on the time bomb. In 40 minutes, you die.

However, in Leadworth, they could go on forever, simply by escaping the town, or finding their way back into the TARDIS. From the standpoint of the story, this means that a decision needs to be made in Leadsworth.

It seems painfully obvious to me that you were supposed to decide that Leadworth was the dream and I came to that conclusion as soon as the nature of the threat was revealed in both storylines. There was just minor thing niggling at the back of my mind: Whenever something is “painfully obvious” I’m always suspicious that the writer is trying to trick the audience. The writer was “tricking”us, both worlds were dreams but in all fairness, I did not figure that out.)

On second viewing, I liked the story better, partially because it got to spend a little time examining what I call, “The Companions Dilemma.” The moment of a companion’s departure has always been problematic. The Doctor literally dumped his granddaughter, forcing her to stay on Earth with the man she fell in love with. Ian and Barbara finally got to go home back in the days when the Doctor could never, ever arrive when and where he wanted to be. After that, though, the companions rarely show any indication that they’re going to leave until moments before they do.

I ask you, is that what you’d do? I don’t think I would. I think I’d stay aboard the TARDIS forever. Why would you leave it? It’s the very question Amy asks Rory, “Why would we give up all this?” Since the series’ revival, this has become a very sticky problem, because the companions are obviously a lot more emotionally invested in the Doctor as a partner rather than as a father-figure. It’s terribly sad (and I’m not looking forward to it) but all little girls grow up and leave their fathers. There is an inevitability about it that we must expect. When someone leaves their chosen partner, it is a different dynamic. Few people go into relationships with the idea that someday they will leave and so when they do, it’s often a time of acrimony and disappointment.

In a TV series, no one wants to see a beloved companion depart on acrimonious terms – we want to remember our TV friends as they were, and so the departures of Rose and Donna were contrived to make it impossible for them to stay. The departure of Martha was so poorly realized that to this day one would think she’d been fired on the spur of a moment rather than as a planned departure from the show.

In any case, Amy’s Choice is partially an analysis of why people stay and what might make someone leave. Clearly Rory prefers Leadworth and Amy prefers the TARDIS. When she finally realizes that she really loves Rory and can’t live without him, she grows up a little bit right in front of our eyes.

The other major plot, and part of the reason the story ultimately fails for me, is the Doctor’s self-loathing. The Dream Lord is himself; his own deep, dark side that dislikes what he is and how he treats his friends. The story would have a lot more impact over the course of the episode if we knew this from the start, but instead, the reveal that the Dream Lord is the Doctor comes tacked on at the end like an afterthought.

If someone is making snide remarks about someone else, it has a certain weight to it. If they’re making comments about another person and you recognize those things to be to a certain degree truthful, it has more weight, but if a person is making comments about themself it opens up a whole insight on that person. By saving the reveal of the Dream Lord’s identify to the end, you have to go back and re-evaluate what you’d seen earlier. That’s why this episode is better on second viewing. What the Dream Lord says is much more important the second time through.

If I had to rate this episode on a scale of 0 to 100, where 50 equates to “approval”, I’d have to give it 49.9999. It just misses by the smallest of margin.


Ben and I chatted about this episode in greater detail over at the Fusion Patrol Podcast. You can listen to the episode here:


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Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

I’ll not review the finale of Ashes to Ashes as an episode, I never really reviewed the finale of Life on Mars, nor have I been reviewing either series on an episode by episode basis. There’s no reason for me to start that now. That notwithstanding, I’ve faithfully watched both series from day one. I had more affinity for Life on Mars probably because my age my closely matches Sam Tyler’s and because the mystery of the series was more unique and pronounced than then post-Life on Mars finale world of Ashes to Ashes.

If you’ve not watched these series, be aware that no discussion of the end of either of these series could be considered spoiler-free. You have been warned. Really, if you haven’t watched Life on Mars and you ever think you might (and you should) don’t read this post. It will ruin the show for you.

Read more after the break…

Continue reading Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

The Hungry Earth – Not a Review

We’re holding off on the podcast and I’m holding off my review of this story until next week’s episode, Cold Blood has aired, but honestly, it’s driving me to distraction not at least giving some random thoughts that the program has brought up.

So this illustration is just me, putting some ideas up from this season on a whiteboard. See if they draw you to the same conclusion they do me:

Doctor Who Crack Mindmap

Doctor Who – Review – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – Spoilers

We’ve heading into uncharted territory now. Historically, I’ve reviewed most new Doctor Who episodes right here on the blog, but now that we’re doing the Fusion Patrol Podcast, I’ve been letting it slip.

The fact is, we’re not really doing reviews at the podcast. I’ve likened to a book club discussion, although, not having attended a book club, how would I know? Basically, we’re just having a discussion about what we think about the episode – so, maybe it is a review. In any case, I’ll try to synthesize some of that down here as my “review.”

Summary

In Time of Angels, the Doctor is re-united with River Song, the archaeologist from the Doctor’s future, first introduced in Silence in the Library. River has cleverly arranged for the Doctor to answer her call and come to her assistance, where she is helping a crack military squad of clerics to neutralize a Weeping Angel: a bizarre quantum-locked alien species that can only move when they’re not being observed. The starliner Byzantium was carrying the angel, but it crashed on a planet, releasing the angel.

As the clerics attempt to work their way through catacombs towards the wrecked ship, Amy is unwittingly infected by one of the angels. The clerics are being killed off one-by-one and only too late does the Doctor realize that all the statues in the catacombs are angels, and they are being brought back to life by the energy from the wrecked starliner. Surrounded, and trapped in a cave just meters below the wrecked ship, things look very bleak indeed.

In Flesh and Stone, the Doctor manages to get the survivors aboard the ship, but the angels are aboard, too. As they make their way through an artificial forest inside the ship, the mysterious crack from Amy’s bedroom wall puts in an appearance, threatening to swallow everything.

Amy must keep her eyes shut to stay alive, and she is left in the care of the cleric, but one-by-one, they are swallowed by the crack and cease to have ever existed. Amy must pretend to be able to see, to fool the angels into leaving her alone, and navigate blindly through the forest to reach the Doctor and River.

Can the Doctor stop the angels and close the crack which threatens to devour the entire universe?

Analysis

From my point of view, this two-parter was an exemplary episode of Doctor Who. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d almost say the best episode since the series returned in 2005.

In pacing, it is unlike any new series episode to date. Even though it maintains suspense from end to end, it is slower than most new series episodes. Midpoint during each 45 minute episode, comes an almost perfect “cliffhanger” point – as if this story was written to be four, 22 minute episodes ala the classic series. I much prefer this pacing and really wish Steven Moffat would convert all the stories into two-parters. That said, the resolution to the problem of both the angels and the crack did present itself rather quickly and conveniently right at the end and wasn’t really any of the Doctor’s doing. In effect, his cleverness just kept them alive long enough for them to get lucky. That was probably the most dissatisfying part of the whole story to me.

We (the audience and the Doctor) are meeting River Song for only the second time, but from her timeline, she’s met the Doctor many times before, and knows about his future. Last time, we learned that she was someone very, very important to the Doctor in his future and that he trusted her with enough knowing his real name. This time, which is much earlier in her timeline, we learn that she is a murderer and is being held in prison for that crime. She has only been released so that she can help the expedition, “control” the Doctor and try to earn herself a pardon.

During the first episode, it’s not revealed that she’s a prisoner, but it is revealed that the Doctor might not help her if he knew “…who and what [she is]…” At that point, I began to suspect that a beautiful piece of plot contrivance on the Grand Moff’s part would be to have had River die in the first episode that the Doctor meets (which she did) and for the Doctor to die the first time River meets him. That idea was bolstered in my mind when she stated that she had “pictures of all his incarnations” which is only possible if she’s in a timeline after the Doctor is dead. That she was his killer also fit with the “who and what” comment, in that what she is is his murderer. Logical to assume that he’d not want to help her under those conditions.

I thought I was being particularly clever reasoning that out in the first episode, but then they started beating it over our heads in the second episode. Revealing that she was in prison for murder, they she’d murdered a great man, a hero to many. She herself even tells the Doctor, when confronted, that she killed the greatest man she’s ever known.

In slippery Grand Moff style, though, the crack in time has put the idea in the Doctor’s head that time can be “unwritten” and he seems oddly comforted by that idea. Perhaps he thinks he can unwrite River’s crime, or, on a bigger scale, perhaps he can unwrite the Time War, the rise of Rassilon and the destruction of Gallifrey.

On the other hand, if he tries something that big, perhaps he causes the crack himself?

I would like to point out that, while I don’t really give a toss about season-spanning story arcs, I am pleased that this seasons story arc at least appears to be playing out meaningfully during the season, rather than just being a series of catchphrases badly interjected into the scripts with no bearing on the stories. The Bad Wolf syndrome has a been a great, dead albatross hanging around the nexk of the past four series, and I hope it’s gone forever.

Amy, in this episode, is both playful, brilliant and somewhat useless in equal measures. The later is not really her fault, as she’s blind, about to die, all alone in a forest full of angels and terrified out of her wits. Who wouldn’t be useless under those conditions?

All-in-all, one of the best episodes for a long, long time.

No review of this episode would be complete without discussing the final scene, set in Amy’s bedroom, on the night before her wedding (also the night she left with the Doctor.) In no uncertain terms, Amy, having just been terrified for her life, tries to get a leg over on the Doctor.

Prudish I might be, but the tone and content of the scene just felt wrong to me. It didn’t really have a place in a program aimed (partially) at such a young audience, but this is a criticism I’ve had ever since the series returned in 2005. This was just the single most overt expression of it yet.

While I didn’t like it, it was logical. It’s the logical extension (at least in the TV world) of Amy’s lifelong obsession with the Doctor, her fears about marriage and her very near brush with death. It was a accurate portrayal of humanity.

What I did appreciate, though, was that the Doctor clearly felt the same way: This is a totally inappropriate Doctor/Companion interaction, and he puts a stop to it. My hope is that this is the Grand Moff telling us that, “…we’ve pushed the issue to it’s logical conclusion and there’ll no more of that going on in the TARDIS while I’m at the helm.”

Doctor Who Theme Music

It seems that most of the feedback about the new Doctor Who series is positive, save for one thing – the new credits and the new music.

Now, I must admit the new music was immediately a huge letdown for me. It grows on you a bit, but overall I’m not impressed. I decided that I might be prejudiced against it because it was new and different. I decided I needed to listen to it – a lot. The other day, I put that version on the iPhone, hit repeat one song and let it fly during my entire commute. I contemplated every note, every sound, every voice and internalized them.

Then, by way of comparison, I put all versions of the theme music (sans the 8th Doctor telemovie) into a playlist, put them on random and did much the same on my next commute. I’m now ready to pronounce judgement.

First though, let’s standardize our frame of reference. The Doctor Who theme consists in four basic parts: There’s the opening beat, that, thinking back to the Tom Baker years, represented the opening of the time vortex, which follows the main theme itself, which is the sort of howly bits, then there’s the fanfare, which I believe Murray Gold called “the middle third” and was absent from Eccleston’s theme music but added back for the Christmas Invasion. This bit was also usually missing during Tom Baker’s era and only showed up on six-parters that required longer end credits. Finally there’s the ending which is mostly a rehash of bits of the main theme repeating out sometimes ending with a sting.

Taking this new theme apart, I dislike the intro. Gold has added a new theme that isn’t Doctor Who at all overlaying and overpowering the proper parts.

The main theme could be good, perhaps great. It starts well with something similar to the original electronic version, but they discordantly crashes into something orchestral with little high-pitched noisemakers that set my teeth on edge. They’re probably flutes or piccolos or something. Get rid of them. On the other hand, he also uses a small, discreet bit of choral music which works well, and makes it sound darker. best of all, it’s just a little bit, not like his overpowering choral Dalek tunes.

The fanfare suffers the same problem, good foundation, damaged by high-pitched squeaky wind instruments. Some points for some very subtle wobbly sound effects that sound like things flying off into space.

Finally the outgoing part is mostly fine, gone are the obnoxious instruments, leaving us with the pleasant version, but all too soon, it’s over. Here’s hoping next year they’ll try again and learn from this mistake.

It used to be that there were “Science Fiction Theme Song” albums where various artists where Neil Norman, Jeff Love or some orchestra would cover Sci-Fi theme songs. Universally, Doctor Who did not make the translation well. Particularly bad were the orchestral versions, for precisely the reasons I’ve outlined here. The pitch isn’t suited for an orchestra. It shocked the heck out of me when Gold was able to pull the Eccleston/Tennant version off using an orchestra. I think part of the success was lowering the tone and not hitting those high notes.

Still, it’s not the worst “official” version of the Who theme tune, that honor goes (as with so many other “worsts” in Doctor Who history) to the Sylvester McCoy version.

It’s all subjective, but here’s my countdown.

  1. Early 1970’s Pertwee and into Baker version. It’s just a slight variation on the Derbyshire original, but it adds a few extra “hissing snakes”, plus the signature string.
  2. Original. For being the same as the above but just (slightly) less cool.
  3. Colin Baker, Trial of a Time Lord Edition (Dominic Glynn). I’ll take heat for that and it does suffer from 1980itis in the sound of the instrumentation, but I thought it was an improvement over the earlier Peter Howell version because it added a series of dark undercurrents to the theme and I like the FX of little things spinning off into space. The fanfare is bit off, though.
  4. David Tennant/Donna Version (Murray Gold). Yeah, I like the electric guitar.
  5. Eccleston/Tennant Version (Murray Gold) Orchestral done as right as it could have been.
  6. Baker/Davison/Baker (Peter Howell) Somewhat similar to the later Domic Glynn version in that it’s just too 80’s guy with synthesizer in his basement (see Look Around You on computer music), but in this case, it has no flourish. When I first saw it I thought, “this is exciting and fast” but it became vapid rapidly upon repeated exposure.
  7. Matt Smith Version (Gold)
  8. Sylvester McCoy version. (Keff Mcculoch). Poor McCoy, like Colin Baker he got shafted by the production crew and the BBC. Nothing says, “let’s kill Doctor Who” to me like this theme song to me. The theme is lost in the backbeat and it’s the least musically interesting of the bunch.

So there it is. I’ve been meaning to rank the theme songs for years now and I’ve finally gotten around to it. Let the complaints begin! 🙂

*Edit 2014-09-20 – edited to properly reflect the guilty and clear Mark Ayres name!

Doctor Who – The Beast Below – Review – Spoilers

“Say, ‘Whee!'” – the Doctor

I’ll skip the usual synopsis/analysis section and cut right to the bone: this was another fine episode of Doctor Who. With only two episodes of Smith’s reign and Moffat’s stewardship, I could hardly be happier with their start.

This episode we get to see Smith in all his gangly, oddly walking Time Lord glory and he really does fit perfectly. I’m convinced now that he’s not aping Troughton and Davison, but that’s he’s settled on a persona that bears resemblances to them without being the copies. It’s perhaps the best example of “same man, different face” that we’ve yet seen in the actors who play the Doctor.

For the first time ever, the Doctor finds himself in a truly unwinnable situation: He has three choices and in all of them innocents will be grievously harmed or killed. Gone is Russell T. Davies “the Doctor is an absolute moral compass” – or perhaps it’s still there, but we realize even with a compass, sometimes life’s decisions are about taking the least of bad situations.

In the previous episode, the only thing that bothered me about the story was the fact that there were so many coma victims in such a small town, in this episode there were several points that bothered me:

  • Why did the smilers have rotating heads? Each smiler has three expressions, “Happy”, “Sad” and “Angry”, yet only two sides to their face – front and back. When ‘happy’ turned to ‘sad’ and then ‘sad’ turned to ‘angry’, the ‘happy’ face must somehow have been transmogrified to the ‘angry’ one. If the face could be changed, why bother rotating?
  • If the space whale refused to eat children over the course of their 200+ year flight, why did they continue to feed the children to them? Wishful thinking?
  • Having had the children not eaten, what do they do with them? Did they just collect the “zeroes” down in the tower?
  • When the children were inside the whale, as the Doctor and Amy were, how could the whale tell that it had children in its mouth rather than adults?
  • What was the point of having the recorded statement for the “protest/forget” voting booths? If you protested, you were killed, if you chose to forget, surely they would never let you see the recorded statement, otherwise, you could just tell yourself what you were about to forget.

All that said, all is forgiven for this story, a truly unique Doctor Who story.

Next week, the Daleks – I can already tell that I don’t like the idea of a phone-line to the TARDIS.

Doctor Who on the Wii

Honestly, this is in the Sun, which makes it about as reliable as Fox News, but, supposedly, Doctor Who will be coming to the Wii for Xmas.

Apparently, the project has been in the works for a while, but the developers just can’t get into the “spirit” of Doctor Who.

Former Doctor David Tennant said the game had struggled to get off the ground as some developers had wanted the Time Lord to beat up his enemies and blow things up.

Who chiefs prefer the Doc to defeat baddies using his cunning rather than his fists.

David said: “The video game was quite actively developed, but it’s difficult to nail as the Doctor doesn’t blow things up.

He’s not Batman, who goes around smacking people in the head.”

Read more: The Sun – Doctor Wii

I suppose they were having trouble with the idea that a “sonic screwdriver” is a tool, not a kung fu attack move.

Stop Picking on the BBC

While the BBC may have it’s problems, it’s the envy of the world, or so says David Mitchell in this week’s Observer.

I agree, or I wouldn’t be posting this here.

These contradictions make it very easy to find fault with the BBC and let its critics evade the real question which is, simply: do we want it or not? It’s a binary choice, all or nothing. I once came across a very persuasive analysis of organisations (it’s from the book Intelligent Leadership by Alistair Mant) which divides them into two categories: bicycles and frogs.

A bicycle is put together from interchangeable parts. You can take a bicycle-like system apart, polish or improve elements and then reassemble it into something that works better. A frog, however, evolved as a whole. If you chop a little bit off, it’ll muddle along. And another little bit and another and it’ll still be a frog, albeit a less functional one. But finally, with one tiny further change, it will cease to be a frog and nothing you can do will ever put it back together. Well, the BBC is an organisation to melt Miss Piggy’s heart.

From: If you think Ashcroft is a scandal, what about the attacks on the BBC? | David Mitchell]

By the way, Auntie Beeb, my offer still stands: I’m ready to pay a full license fee for the privilege to see the (unadulterated) BBC here in the US. Even streaming over the Internet is good enough.

Doctor Who – The End of Time – I’m still not going to review this mess…

…but,, here’s someone else’s review that hits on about 1/3 to 1/2 of the things that really irritated me about this dismal failure of a regeneration story.

From Behind the Sofa – Return of the Fan****king

Yeah, I welled up. Incredibly, I was still crying when I noticed that the glass doors weren’t even sealed. There are clearly gaps between the panes of glass so how the radiation is contained is anyone’s guess. But I went with it anyway. I was practically chewing the carpet in anguish when the Doctor started raging about how it wasn’t fair, and how a part of him really wanted to just leave the old fart to die. But when he bravely opened that door I was blubbing like a baby. And then he died… a bit like Spock (and Spock dying always makes me cry) and then… and then…

Look, I’m happy to cry as much as the next fanboy, but I can’t do it for 20 minutes straight. It’s too much to ask of me. If the Doctor had regenerated there and then I would have been happy. Well, infinitely sad, but you know what I mean. So what if the preceding 40 minutes had been utter nonsense, at least that moment would have been unforgettable and beautiful and simple and timeless – but no. Oh God no. Instead we get 20 minutes – 20 MINUTES – of Russell T. Davies slapping himself on the back in a self-congratulatory coda that simply beggars belief.

Move over Graham Crowden, this death goes on for so long you’ll need two YouTube links to see it all.


Please… go read the rest of it, so I won’t have to write anything about this episode. Please. Don’t make me write about this. Please…. the drumming, the ceaseless drumming in my head!

Ahhh, suddenly I’m fondly remembering the skill and panache of the Baker => McCoy regeneration.