Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 4: “The Doctor’s Wife”

Well, that was better than last week. It wasn’t great, mind you, but it was pretty okay. Of course, I’m one of those guys who thinks Neil Gaiman hit his creative high point near the end of his run on Sandman and has been heading steadily downhill ever since, so “pretty okay” is about the best I could have reasonably expected.

So what did I like? I liked that the TARDIS assumed her name was “Sexy.” I enjoyed the interactions between the TARDIS and the Doctor in the last half of the episode, especially getting the TARDIS’s perspective on her relationship with the Doctor. The fact that she says that she chose him (and not the other way around) was great. And given that she’s a creature who sees all of time at once, her hints about the future were intriguing and useful, too. They helped Rory get into the second control room, yes, but they also set us up with a mystery for the future. “The only water in the forest is a river,” she says. Hmm. Well, that could be a reference to River Song, obviously, especially since we first met her in the “forest of the dead.” But if the only water in the forest is River, then that doesn’t bode well for Amy “Pond,” does it? The episode had a few funny moments, too, such as the construction and flight of the makeshift TARDIS and the TARDIS’s attraction to Rory.

What didn’t work for me? Well, the sets, costumes, and self-consciously quirky guest actors didn’t connect with me. The entire vibe of the episode reminded me of a Tim Burton movie circa 1998. And that’s not a compliment. Some of the plot didn’t quite gel, either. For example, how did these people get to House in the first place? They were just humans (and an Ood), right? Why did House keep the Ood around at the end, but kill the humans? Where did House get the Time Lord “help boxes,” anyway? Why did House start calling the TARDIS by the name Idris? When did she get that name? And did we really need to see Rory die yet again? This is getting to be a bad joke. Rory’s become the show’s Kenny (from South Park). The talking asteroid thing called to mind those stupid space whales from that not-very-good episode last series, too. Maybe House was a lost space whale? And I can’t say I understand why Steven Moffat, Neil Gaiman, and the rest of the crew seem to think that men want to have sex with the TARDIS. I don’t get the whole let’s-sexualize-machinery thing. But then, I’m not into cars, either.

But my biggest problem with the episode was that the audience knew within the first 3 minutes that the TARDIS has been displaced into the body of the Helena Bonham Carter wannabe, which made the next 15 minutes of the episode (where the supposedly brilliant Doctor catches up with us) rather pointless and painful to sit through. I was twiddling my thumbs through those early scenes, waiting for the Doctor to figure out what we already knew so we could just move on already. Yes, yes, the TARDIS is in the body of a human. That idea isn’t very original or interesting so can we just get past it and move on with the plot? The climax of the episode was decidedly weak, too. The emotion at the end from the Doctor and Rory felt unearned and unwarranted. After all, the TARDIS wasn’t dying; she was just leaving her stolen human body. If those two guys wanted to mourn for anyone, they should have mourned for the poor woman who owned the body originally! (Was that Idris?) I also thought they missed a great opportunity to show us more of the TARDIS’s interior. They finally leave the control room and what do we get to see? Some really lame, “sci-fi” hallways. Whoopee. Where was the churchyard that houses the cloister bell? Where was the library? Where was the oft-mentioned swimming pool, for God’s sake?! The best the production team could muster were some cardboard, hexagonal corridors. And then they started talking about old control rooms and I got excited again. I thought maybe we’d get a glimpse at the original, William Hartnell console. Or maybe Tom Baker’s. But, no. We just got David Tennant’s control room. That’s the opposite of fun.

One last thing – did anyone else catch the reference the Corsair’s gender swapping? Fans have speculated for years about whether or not Time Lords can switch genders. Now that we know they can, could a female Doctor be in the cards?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 3: “The Curse of the Black Spot”

My mom always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, I have committed to blogging about all of the episodes of Doctor Who this season, which means I have to say something about last night’s episode, “The Curse of the Black Spot.”

As I mentioned last week, I didn’t have a good feeling about this story going into it based just on the trailer (and the fact that is seemed like a blatant Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off). I tried to put my preconceived notions aside, though, so I could enjoy the pirate-y thrills and derring-do. I failed – although I think it was less my fault than the episode’s. This episode was just… not good. It actually seemed more like a parody of Doctor Who than an actual episode; it was riddled with the show’s clich├ęs – an alien masquerading as something supernatural, a decidedly low-budget feel, another oh-no-Rory's-dead scene, and a nonsensical plot that didn’t come together in the end. The script was quite bad, actually, riddled with unfunny, attempting-to-be-clever lines for the Doctor and an inadequate character arc for the pirate captain guest star. The acting was no great shakes, either. Even the regulars (Matt Smith included) seemed bored and vaguely embarrassed. Karen Gillan made the least-convincing pirate in history. (Yes, even worse than Keira Knightley.) Honestly, this episode felt like the series was just killing time. They did shoehorn in a reference to the ongoing plot with a brief appearance by Eye Patch Woman, which seemed like a token way of trying to tie this episode to the rest of the series. It didn’t work. And the scene at the end with Amy’s pregnancy scan was almost a copy/paste from last week. So why even bother including it?

As for the plot, it had more holes than a sinking ship. For one thing, why were there a total of only five crewmembers? Even at the end when the full crew gathered on the bridge of their new spaceship? And how did they all manage to walk onto the bridge at the end (including the sick kid)? I thought the “siren” had to keep them in suspended animation or some such nonsense. And is letting a crew of dangerous, bloodthirsty pirates take control of a state-of-the-art spaceship a wise decision on the Doctor’s part? Shouldn’t these guys be in jail for all their raping, murdering, etc.? Now they’re flying around a nuclear reactor with all of space to harass! Speaking of the small crew, why did one of them (the one that the annoying little kid cut with a sword to force him to stay hidden with Amy and Rory) just sort of disappear halfway through the episode, never to be mentioned again? And why would the medical hologram have an “evil, red demon setting,” anyway? And why couldn’t it speak? How does singing act as an anesthetic? Why bother making the dead aliens non-humanoid if you’re then just going to have to explain why the medical hologram looks human? And how did the alien crew die if they had this ingenious medical hologram on board with them? Shouldn’t she have healed their injuries? So many things that didn’t make sense…. And worst of all, I can’t really bring myself to care about the answers.

So, taken on it’s own merits, this episode was bad, bad, bad. It certainly ranks down there with “Fear Her,” “The Lazarus Experiment,” and “Planet of the Ood” as some of the worst of New Who. Watched right after the brilliant season-opening two-parter, though, it seems even worse. After the intriguing start to the season, I wanted more about the ongoing storyline. Or at least an enjoyable one-off. Unfortunately, this episode was neither of those things. Hopefully, Neil Gaiman can right this ship next week. Yes, I just made a sailing analogy while discussing a pirate-themed story. Not very clever, I know – which means it should fit in perfectly with this episode.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 2: "Day of the Moon"

I can't resist; I'm skipping to the end of the episode first.

SPOILERS!

I did not see that coming. So the little girl's a Time Lady? What the hey?! Who is she then? Is she Amy's daughter who was somehow born as a Time Lady because she was conceived in the TARDIS? (I'm assuming Rory is the father. Surely Steven Moffat wouldn't have Amy impregnated by the Doctor.... Would he?) The Doctor's medical scan of Amy at the end of the episode seemed to imply that Amy's fetus is already jumping in and out of time (or in and out of existence), which might be totally normal for Time Lord babies, who knows? Or is the little girl a young River Song, making that shady dame a secret Time Lady all this time? Maybe River was the Rani in a previous form. Or Romana. Or, a little more outlandishly, the little girl could be the Doctor's granddaughter Susan who hasn't been seen since the days of the First Doctor. Or maybe she's the Doctor's cloned "daughter" from a couple of season's past having regenerated from Georgia Moffett into a little girl? Or perhaps she's a combination of these possibilities. Perhaps she's Amy and Rory's TARDIS-conceived Time Lady daughter who just happens to grow up to become the Rani who later reforms and becomes a certain benevolent Doctor Song. Nah. That would be too confusing! There is one other possibility. Perhaps the child is the daughter of River and the Doctor. Remember last week, River also got sick after forgetting the Silents, just like Amy did. Does that mean that River's pregnant, too? We know from the ending that River and the Doctor had been quite intimate in her past (but his future), so if she is pregnant, that'd mean the baby is at least half Time Lord. Hmmm.... In any case, the possibilities have my mind reeling - and have me excited, waiting for answers.

So, aside from the ending, how was this episode? In a word, great! Continuing on from last week, this episode contained even more creepy stuff - Amy, Rory, and River marking on their skin how many times they had seen the Silents, the abandoned orphanage with the ominous warnings (written in blood?), the Silents hanging from the ceiling like bats, the Doctor imprisoned and looking like an unkept crazy person, Amy's disembodied voice begging for help through the communicator, and so on. If I were a kid, I'd have definitely been hiding behind the sofa for this one. I also thought the Doctor's solution to the problem of the Silents (involving a phone camera, Neil Armstrong's boot, and the televised moon landing) was creative and clever - although I am rather surprised that the Doctor would inspire humans to kill off an entire race of aliens, no matter how evil those aliens are. Actually, there was rather a lot of violence in this episode (what with River and the Doctor blasting Silents with guns and screwdrivers), which would probably be the one negative thing about the episode for me.

As with many of Moffat's episodes, the script answered a couple of minor questions but left many of the bigger questions to linger while introducing a few new wrinkles as well. As I mentioned above, we still don't know who the little girl is. And now we have to wonder about her status as a Time Lady, too! And why, exactly, did the Silents need her? And why did their ship look like a TARDIS? Also, we do not learn why the little girl (if that was her in the spacesuit at the start of last week's episode) killed the future Doctor - or why he allowed it to happen. And what was with that lady with the metal eyepatch who peeked at Amy through a peephole in the door and said, "She seems to be dreaming," only to then disappear (along with the peephole)? That was like something from a bizarre art film, and I have no clue where that's going.

Overall, I'd say this is the best opening for a Doctor Who series in the modern era. I'm really digging the scary yet funny tone and the various mysteries have me begging for more. I must admit that I am a little concerned about next week's pirate-themed episode, but I'll go into it with an open mind hoping for the best.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review of Series 6, Episode 1: “The Impossible Astronaut”

“The Impossible Astronaut” makes for an epic and cinematic opening episode that looks like it was made on the budget for a Hollywood movie instead of a BBC TV show. The plot starts strong and grabs you by the lapels, making innovative use of the Doctor’s ability to travel through time without becoming overly complicated for the kiddies. Basically, it’s a fantastic way to kick off Series 6!

After several not-so-funny vignettes in which the Doctor tries to get Amy and Rory’s attention throughout time (although I must admit that it was fun seeing the Doctor dance with Laurel and Hardy), the plot finally gets moving when the happy couple receives a mysterious TARDIS-blue invitation directing them to coordinates in the good ole U.S. of A. I thought it was funny that Amy and Rory arrive at the location on a traditional yellow school bus given that those buses scream “American” to Brits in the same way that red double-decker buses say “English” to those of us in the U.S. It’s like they were trying to overload on Americanisms right off the bat by including the yellow school bus, Monument Valley, a vintage Cadillac, a Stetson, a six-shooter, and (soon enough) a 1950s-style diner complete with American flag and Elvis murals. Kitschy, but fun.

Having received a blue invitation while incarcerated in Stormcage, River Song (making an explosive entrance, as always) joins the little group – and also reveals that the statues on Easter Island were actually modeled after the Doctor. They do kind of look like Matt Smith! The friends’ reunion picnic is then interrupted by the mysterious arrival of a silent astronaut from out of the nearby lake. This was a very creepy sequence that was only made even more eerie by the fact that the Doctor seemed to know what was happening. A few moments later, the Doctor is dead, having been willingly shot several times by the astronaut, the last time in the middle of his regeneration cycle, stopping him from changing into a new body. So, in the first 10 minutes of the episode, the Doctor has been finally and irrevocably murdered. Hell of a way to hook the audience!

But, of course, things aren’t that simple when you’re dealing with time travel. Another Doctor (“our” Doctor from the previous season, which means the Doctor who was killed was actually from a couple of hundred years in the future) arrives with a blue invitation, and River convinces Amy and Rory that he has to be kept in the dark regarding his ultimate fate and the identity of who invited them all. The fact that the audience now knows more than the Doctor about what’s happening made for a nice inversion to River’s oft-frustrating “spoilers!” comment; we’re on her side now instead of the Doctor’s so we can see that there are, indeed, facts that she would need to keep secret from him. The scene in the Oval Office was outstanding because it managed to combine creepy and funny in just the right proportions without giving the audience emotional whiplash. Breaking the tension from the creepy little girl’s recorded phone call with the Doctor’s antics and the appearance of the TARDIS was a stroke of brilliance.

The new aliens introduced in this episode had a great design (not to mention a great conceit – that you forget about them as soon as you’re not looking at them). The aliens’ scary faces are somehow rendered even creepier in contrast with their rather standard “man in black” suits. I noticed that these aliens didn’t have mouths and seemed to communicate telepathically. Does that mean that they are the “Silents” that were teased throughout last season with the phrase “The Silents will fall”? Whoever they are, it was spooky when River and Rory entered their spaceship only to reveal to the audience the same interior as the makeshift TARDIS from last series’ episode “The Lodger.” Of course, River and Rory wouldn’t recognize that fact because they were not in that episode, which I’m sure is no coincidence on the writer’s part. In any case, I guess we can assume that these same aliens were behind that plot as well.

Aside from the intriguing plotline, this episode also had an abundance of clever and funny lines. “You were my second choice for president, Mr. Nixon.” “They’re Americans!” “The Legs, the Nose, and Mrs. Robinson.” “Brave heart, Canton.” “She’s just a friend!” Good stuff.

The performances were all around excellent as well. Of course Matt Smith was great, but Karen Gillen as Amy Pond wasn’t as abrasive as she was last season. I found her a little annoying last year, but I liked her in this episode. I’m glad to see Arthur Darvill’s Rory become a full-time companion, too. And River is as intriguing and likeable/untrustworthy as always. Even the supporting cast was good. I don’t know if they actually hired American actors for the bit parts (I kind of doubt it), but the accents weren’t terrible. Usually Brits trying to do American accents are pretty intolerable (see the David Tennant two-parter set in New York during the Depression for some examples). The only annoying over-Americanism that I can recall from this episode was Joy’s overuse of the word “honey” in the bathroom. Her voice made me glad the alien blew her up, actually.

I did have a few very minor criticisms. As I said, I wasn’t a fan of the opening series of vignettes, which I just thought were silly and not funny. And did they really need to do the old “Doctor Who?” joke not once but twice in the episode? I know that there are probably some newer members of the audience who haven’t heard it before, but they certainly had already heard it by the time it cropped up a second time in the episode! I also wasn’t thrilled with the decision to go all slow-mo on us during the cliffhanger. I’m not a fan of slow-mo in general, but I like it even less when there are lines of dialogue during it. Always reminds me of those horrible last scenes from The Return of the King. You know the ones. “Gaaandaalf?! Haaa haa!”

Aside from those minor nitpicks, though, I thought this was an excellent episode. I can’t wait for next Saturday to see how they wrap all of this up in “Day of the Moon.” Who is the murderous astronaut? The Doctor himself? (I kind of can’t picture anyone killing the Doctor but himself, for some reason.) Or is it River Song? After all, we know that she is imprisoned in Stormcage for killing “a great man.” Speaking of River, I wonder if we’ll finally get to learn her true identity next week. Is she a Timelord, as some have suggested? The Rani, maybe? Or the Master? Or the Doctor him/herself? Or is she just a human? She says she was “an impressionable young girl” when she first met the Doctor. Is she, maybe, the girl in the spacesuit at the end of the episode? I have no clue and I’m not even going to bother guessing because I’m sure Steven Moffat has some tricks up his sleeve yet!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

April 23, 2011, Baby!

BBC America has announced that the first half of this year's Doctor Who series will begin airing on April 23. Let the countdown begin!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Awesome Doctor Who Infographic!

Check out this cool "infographic" that my fellow Hoosier Bob Canada created and posted on his blog:



What a great introduction to the Doctor! Share it with all your friends who don't watch Doctor Who to get them up-to-speed before the next series starts this spring. Let's hope he makes it available as a poster. I know I'd buy one. Good work, Bob!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review of the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas Special: “A Christmas Carol”

Let’s hear it for the first ever Doctor Who episode to be broadcast on the same day on both sides of the Atlantic (December 25, 2010, natch)! That’s the good news. The bad news is that BBC America is not in HD in my town, which made the US-broadcast version look, well, less than good. Aside from the picture quality, this was also the first time I’ve tried to watch Doctor Who (a program made for the commercial-free BBC) with commercials awkwardly shoehorned into it at regular intervals, which meant that watching the episode was kind of like reading a book with someone periodically screaming in your ear. So, despite the day-and-date broadcast, I still found myself looking elsewhere to get a high-quality, commercial-free version to watch.

And, boy, am I glad I held out for a version in HD because this episode looked great, if nothing else! The foggy, steam punk setting for the episode was brilliantly realized, a mixture of nostalgic Victorian England and futuristic, sci-fi trappings. The first time they showed a school of tiny flying fish circling a street lamp like it was a plastic castle in a fish bowl, my eyes were glued to the screen. And who thought a flying shark pulling a carriage could look cool instead of stupid?

Don’t get me wrong, though, the episode was not all about the visual effects. There was a real story here. Obviously, Steven Moffat (the current executive producer of Doctor Who and the writer of this particular episode) started with the template and title of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but Moffat didn’t so much rehash that story as cleverly reinvent it. The Ghost of Christmas Past (the Doctor, of course) actually traveled to the past and messed around with the Kazran Sardick’s childhood, changing the man in the present by influencing the boy. Cool! The Ghost of Christmas Present (Amy) then used her holographic powers to both appear to Kazran as a spooky green phantom and to project the interior of the doomed ship around him, thereby taking him to the scene of the disaster. Most clever of all, though, was the Ghost of Christmas Future (the Doctor again) not bothering to take Kazran to see his future/death, but instead taking the young Kazran to his future (the present) to see the bitter old man he had become. Well played, Mr. Moffatt! These changes meant that the story did follow Dickens’ original novella, but mixed it up enough so it wasn’t just another boring rehash.

As for the acting, Matt Smith was great as usual. He’s really fallen into the role of the Doctor now, seeming to me like a blend of the First Doctor, the Second Doctor, and the Fifth Doctor. Michael Gambon (who I think we can all agree made the superior Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies) was excellent as well, making me both hate and pity Kazran. I’ve never heard of the episode’s other major guest star, a British singer named Katherine Jenkins, but she was fine, too. Her acting as Abigail didn’t really pull me out of the episode, anyway, even though her singing isn’t really my cup of tea. Given that I’m not overly fond of either of the Doctor’s current companions (Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and Arthur Darvill [whose name now appears in the opening credits, by the way] as Rory Williams), I can’t say that I was too upset that the unlikely newlyweds ended up stuck on board a crashing spaceship with the cast of Star Trek for the entire story, thereby minimizing their roles. It made them more palatable, that’s for sure! I did like how they put Amy and Rory back into their most “iconic” costumes from the preceding series (slutty policewoman and Roman centurion, respectively), explaining the odd sartorial choices as “a bit of fun” for them in their honeymoon suite.

No, the episode wasn’t perfect. But, then, what is? There were, indeed, a few cheesy lines (“Everyone stops and turns and hugs as if to say ‘Well, done, everyone!’”), but if you can’t be cheesy at Christmastime, then when can you be cheesy? Aside from the cheese, there were also a few lines of dialogue that simply didn’t work. The worst was when old Kazran said to the Doctor, “Was that a sort of threat-y thing?” which sounds more like something Joss Whedon would write for Buffy Summers instead of something an old, powerful rich dude would actually say. There was also at least one sequence (when the Doctor is analyzing Kazran and his environment near the beginning of the episode) that seemed lifted directly from Sherlock, Moffat’s other BBC series, but I chose to take that sequence as a kind of in-joke regarding his other job rather than a jarring, out-of-place element that didn’t match stylistically with the rest of the episode. And, yes, there were some logic problems. For example, why was Abigail frozen as collateral in the first place if she was dying at the time? What kind of collateral is that? Clearly Kazran’s father knew she was dying because he placed a convenient “life-count-down-ometer” on the outside of her freezer. Setting aside the idea that they even could predict, down to the day, how much time she had left to live, why would Kazran’s father have installed such a counter anyway? Why would he care? Finally, the boy who played young Kazran was a bit over-the-top for my taste. He seemed more like a kid who’s taken one-too-many acting lessons rather than a natural talent. I say send him back to his role as Gavroche in Les Miserables and start looking for kids who aren’t unnaturally hammy for TV.

Aside from those rather minor points, though, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. It was certainly Christmas-y! Murray Gold’s music was excellent as always, and I loved seeing the Eleventh Doctor in a scarf reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor’s, even if it was just for one moment. Overall, I’d say this was the best of Doctor Who’s Christmas Specials. Looking back at the previous ones, though, that may seem like faint praise.