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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…

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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

The Silurians – Lost in Time

The Silurians, a classic Doctor Who “monster” have returned to our screens in Chris Chibnall’s new story The Hungry Earth. Sadly, the story has not done anything, so far, to correct an unfortunately horrid series of errors placing them in geologic time. In fact, by adding one more piece, he’s compounded the error yet again.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to call them “Silurians” but as you’ll see, as things stand now, we’re no closer to giving them a correct name as we were when they first appeared 40 years ago.

Consider: These reptilian creatures were first dubbed “Silurians” in the original series story, “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” This is clearly a misnomer. The Silurian Period spanned from 430 million years ago (mya) to 408 mya. By the end of the Silurian period, land-dwelling reptiles didn’t exist yet. A gross misnomer.

It was also pointed out that the so-called Silurians went into hibernation when a small planetoid threatened the Earth. The planetoid instead went into orbit and became the moon. Although not known that the time of the writing of that story, the moon is the result of collision with the primordial Earth, over 4 billions years ago. One this is for sure, the moon has orbited Earth for as long as life has been present.

Later, the Silurians cousins turned up in the story, The Sea Devils. The Doctor helpfully pointed out that the Silurians should have been called The Eocenes.

Problem: The Eocene Epoch spans from 57.8 mya to 35.6 mya. That’s over 7 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. We know that the Silurians co-habitated the earth with dinosaurs which must put them into the late Triassic, the Jurrasic or the Cretaceous periods roughly 220 mya to 65 mya. Most likely they must have come from the end of that time as they have a pet Tyrannosaur, which only dates back about 68 mya.

Next problem: Even the original Silurians recognized apes, which didn’t evolve until just after the Eocene, in the Oligocene.

You’d think it couldn’t be any worse and then Hungry Earth comes along and not only does the Doctor call them Silurians and Eocenes, but he also refers to them as Homo Reptilia, and then suggest they’re from 300 mya – which is in the Carboniferious Period!

While the Carboniferous did have amphibians, the major reptilian lines didn’t really get going until the next period, the Permian.

Finally, I don’t know where he pulled the name Homo Reptilia from, but in biological classifications, you don’t just slap “homo” in front of a name if the creature is vaguely anthropomorphic. For it to be Homo Reptilia, these creatures would have to be our very close, mammalian relatives.

One could almost think Chibnall threw this stuff in just to push my buttons. Maybe he’ll fix it all better next week.

One thing in the original story’s favor. Although it was clearly intended and stated to have been the moon, time has given us an out. When the first Silurian story came out, nobody knew about the asteroid that struck the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous, now widely thought to have been the final straw in the extinction of the dinosaurs. It would be easy to retrofit the original explanation and say that it was that asteroid instead of the moon that the Silurians hid from.

But that just adds more fuel to the argument that the Silurians really should be called The Cretaceans.


Follow-up June 2, 2010:

There was no magical explanation in the final episode, Cold Blood and they even re-enforced the wandering moon problem, too. I guess I really was giving them too much credit.

Doctor Who – Review – Vampires in Venice – Spoilers

Summary

The Doctor decides that Rory needs to go on a date with Amy and so he picks him up at his stag night and whisks the two off to Venice in 1580. They encounter a mysterious Countess who runs a school for pale, slightly creepy girls who hate the sunlight. They are, of course, not really vampires but alien crayfish refugees intent on sinking venice and repopulating their race.

Analysis

No matter how hard I try, I just could not care less about this episode. I don’t actively hate it (like Love and Monsters – go on, read my review of that, at least I had some emotions about it) but I am completely and utterly apathetic about it. It killed the better part of an hour and little more.

…and… that’s… about… it.

Oh, surely I can come up with something to bitch about.

This reminds me a lot of Toby Whithouse’s other Doctor Who script, School Reunion, which was mostly enjoyable only for the return of Sarah Jane Smith and not for the imaginative story-telling. He’s got a thing for vampires and faux-vampires, though. Next thing you know, he’ll probably be writing a series about them…

I’m sick of the low-level perception filter gimmick. Let’s get back to aliens that either look human or look like guys in rubber suits.

The Doctor is completely trying to be Jerry Lewis in this episode. I hate Jerry Lewis.

Ben and I discuss this story on Episode 3 of the Fusion Patrol Podcast.


You can listen to it here


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Victory of the Daleks – Review – Spoilers

This is really going to me more about the Daleks than this week’s episode of Doctor Who, but we’ll do both.

Victory of the Daleks is the Moffat-era reboot of the Daleks, and they desperately needed a reboot, but will this really be an improvement?

Summary

Winston Churchill calls the Doctor to the Cabinet War Rooms during the London Blitz to introduce his new secret weapon against the Nazi’s, the Daleks – although he doesn’t know them as Daleks, but instead as Ironsides, created by Prof. Bracewell.

The Doctor goes F-ing crazy to try to prove they’re nasty little alien Daleks and when he finally confronts them face-to-face proclaiming himself to be the Doctor and they to be the Daleks they get all happy and leave, but not before revealing that Bracewell is an android they created as a cover story, but he thinks he’s a real boy.

Back on the Dalek ship, they use the recording of the Doctor to prove they’re really Daleks and start the Progenitor device: A Dalek gene-bank to create a new army of Daleks. The Daleks threaten to destroy the Earth, the Doctor saves the Earth, but the Daleks escape.

Analysis

This first non-Moffat story of the Moffat-era is entertaining, but ultimately empty. It’s nothing more than a vehicle to unleash the Daleks into the Who-universe once more. The Dalek plan seems nearly hare-brained, the plot device that says the genetically-imperfect Daleks can’t activate the Progenitor device is ridiculous to begin with (wouldn’t it be better if anyone could turn it on with the right passcode?) and the resolution of just having the Doctor admit they’re Daleks being good enough to overcome the lockout beggar’s belief.

Before I go on about the Daleks, let me take a moment to talk about the rest of the episode. Spitfires in space, fighting Daleks, yeah, Ok, that was fun. Winston Churchill, not much of a key player, looked a little fatter than I remember. Amy did a nice job, but then she’d brighten any scene she’s in. Prof. Bracewell as the misguided android did a nice job. (And he likes girls.)

But let’s go back to the Daleks.

Do you know what it takes to make a genuinely mediocre episode of Doctor Who? Answer: The Daleks.

Confined in their metal city on Skaro, in a claustrophobic setting, they were a credible threat. Unleashed on the universe, they’re a joke. I’m sure the writers of the original Doctor Who knew that. Just look at the Dalek stories starting in the Pertwee era. They are absolutely the most unconvincing villains ever created, but they’re popular with the punters and they just had to keep bringing them back. Even back then, their master plans were idiotic. Hollowing out the cores of planets, running their own funeral parlor, etc. The power of nostalgia overcomes people when thinking about the Daleks.

Then a funny thing happened, Russell T. Davies, an admittedly massively nostalgic fan of the original series, came along and he wanted his Daleks to be menacing – like he remembered them in the misty, poorly remembered corners of his mind. (Keep this in mind, They were never menacing, it’s just his memory failing.) So, during his reign, the Daleks were brilliant and massively powerful. One single Dalek could wipe out an entire city. They’re really, really dangerous.

Problem is, if they’re so smart, that might be able to learn and adapt and become peaceful, even productive members of the universe. Not to mention that, but, if they did take over the universe, what would they do with it? Really, they’ve got no good motivation, either. Can’t have that, let’s make them insane too! It doesn’t matter how dumb the idea, right up to and including destroying reality itself, they’re up for it. They’re crazy, the audience will buy anything they want to do.

No, we won’t.

The Daleks should never have been made so smart and all-powerful that they could destroy all of reality, no more than the Time Lords should have been made powerful enough to destroy all of time itself. When you get villains that big and powerful any plot you come up with just gets dumber and dumber and the resolution more insane.

The Daleks desperately needed a reboot (as do the Time Lords). Perhaps these new Daleks, unaware of what’s transpired, will be closer to the older Daleks. Big enough of a threat to take over whole planets, subjugate whole races of people, launch intergalactic wars. but not big enough to contemplate the total destruction of the fabric of reality. Let’s give the Doctor something I can believe he could defeat using his wits.

So with this story, let’s all wish on the first star we see tonight and send Stephen Moffat some psychic messages. If we can’t have “no Daleks, ever”, then at least let’s wish for “sensible Daleks.”

A lot of ire has been spreading across the ‘net regarding the look of the new Daleks. I can take it or leave it. Since they barely ever looked menacing, I don’t think the new ones are much of a departure. They’re bigger, they’re colorful, they’re still laughable.

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.

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.