Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.12-13: Captain Jack Harkness and End of Days

Torchwood, Series One, Episode Twelve - Captain Jack Harkness

Our long and bountiful quest has brought us to the Series Finale. Like the real-life broadcast, I'm reviewing these two episodes together, begining with the first half, Captain Jack Harkness. It has a few issues with pacing, but the episode pulls out the big guns and is mainly a character piece looking at the history of the show's main character, Jack Harkness. In some ways it was also an Owen vehicle, but all of the characters (bar Gwen, who's been through quite enough alreasy got a splattering of character development as we gear up for the final episode.
     When investigating an old dancehall, Jack and Tosh are swept up by the rift and end up in 1941 at a party to celebrate the soldiers going back to war. The Dancehall is run by a strange-looking man called Billis Manger, who appears to Gwen when she follows up their disappearance in 2006. Jack becomes friends with an American Captain called Captain Jack Harkness. He later reveals to Tosh that when he was in WWII the first time (as a time-travelling conman} he stole WWII Jack's name as an alias,
     Owen, who's still hung up on Dianne, uses their disappearance into the past as an excuse to open the rift, much to Ianto's chagrin. The two argue and fight. As Tosh attempts to send the equations for the Rift Machine through time (being hindered by Billis along the way}, Gwen and Owen search the Dancehall to find them as well as a piece of the rift machine that appears to be missing. Eventually they have a complete Rift Manipulator and nearly all of the equations, minus three important figures.
     In WWII, the two Jacks bond because TW!Jack knows that this is the last day of WWII!Jack's life. Despite all of the encoragement he gives to make sure that WWIIJack enjoys his last night with his girlfriend, it's revealed that she's simply a beard. When the rift opens and Jack and Tosh have to return to the future, they share a passionate kiss.
     Seeing as not much actually happens in CJH, its writing depends more on its ideas and its characters than anything else. Over all other things, the characters are real human beings and unlike in the first half of the series there aren't any particularly huge problems. The original Captain Jack, played by Hollywood bit-actor Matt Rippy, is a great character and is a great example of a gay man in the 1940's. Billis is an intriguing villain almost immediately, his anachronistic nature presented in an incredibly subtle way.
     On its own, CJH is a bit of a non-entity. It falls into that dangerous trap that a lot of penultimate episodes do in that it uses the finale as its climax, and thus the rest of the story suffers as a result. But regardless of that, CJH is an excellent character piece filled with passion and human drama as well as a sci-fi idea that the show doesn't often touch upon.

Torchwood, Series One, Episode Thirteen - End of Days

The End of Days, and the end of the series. It's been a turbulent ride, but this last half has been really good by my standards and the hopes for the finale are high. A good finale should not only be an imaginative and conclusive adventure, but also should be a summary of the series' themes and should leave us wanting more. Oh dear. Everytime I say things like this I'm horrifically disappointed.
     After Owen fucked up the rift, the world has turned upside down overnight. Aliens are floating over the Taj Mahal, a hospital in Cardiff has The Plague and there are Roman soldiers in London. The team (sans immortal Jack}all receive visions of their loved ones (Toshiko sees her mother; Ianto sees Lisa; Owen sees Dianne and then Gwen sees a vision of a dead Rhys, who then dies}. Eventually the teams' hangups overrule Jack and they open the rift, which sends everyone home and resets time but also releases a 10ft demon named Abbadon that kills everyone in his shadow.
     Taking it remarkably well, Jack goes up to the demon and uses his immortality to over-face him, killing both of them. Jack remains dead for days, but after a kiss from Gwen he returns to life and everyone is forgiven. He then wanders into Season 29 of Doctor Who.
Jack has gone!
     My main problem with End of Days is that it's so uneventful. It's really slow-paced and the time-reset element means that little has changed at the end of it. In fact, upon one's second rewatch Billis is absolutely right - bearing in mind that he knows that Jack is immortal, he's right in saying that opening the rift would solve all of their problems. There's no threat at all, because apart from Abbadon, which is easy to fix in this context, everything that went wrong because of the first opening was fixed. Why this works I don't know, and it'll probably never be explained. Abbadon and Billis Manger's scheme is just silly, and while I thought it was scary on my first viewing (as a ten-year-old}it just looks ridiculous now.
     And so, despite how great the episodes leading up to this were, I'm still disappointed with End of Days. It relied on the character drama that this half of the series had set up, but the follow-through wasn't done well and the whole thing collapsed. The villains, while creepy, are ineffective and the ending teasing the third series of its parent program felt like of a bit of a cop-out. Sorry, Torchwood.

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News: Eccles Cake and Piper Pie

My Birthday was two weeks ago, and my main present has finally arrived - the first series of the revived Doctor Who. Now I can finally review the series that brought the show back to our screens. By the time my bumper Torchwood Series One Finale Review will be finished, I'll be back in school, but I hope to review another episode of the brilliant first series every Sunday here at Audenshaw Reviews.

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.11: Combat

Janet the Weevil.
The first two series of Doctor Who featured more side-characters than ever before, really examining the companion's home life like the Classic Series never did. One of these side-characters was the companion's hen-pecked boyfriend, Mickey Smith, played by Noel Clarke. Clarke, prior to and the since the role, has always been known better as a writer, his most notable works including the gang-culture film Kidulthood and its sequel Adulthood. Here Clarke gets a go at writing for the Whoniverse, and the results are nothing less than astounding.
    Like the string of brilliant episodes we've had since the series turned over into its second half, the script relies very much on human emotions and beliefs to power the story instead of focussing soley on an alien concept. Combat is about escapism and the consequences of a nihilistic viewpoint - one that Torchwood holds dear to its heart. What makes it so powerful is that the characters, while obviously having an eccentric lifestyle, all have motives firmly identifiable to the average Joe - something that Clarke, having written "real life dramas" is no stranger to.
     Jack interupts one of Gwen's dates with Rhys, prompting an angry reaction from her long-suffering partner. They chase down a Weevil that's running loose on the streets of Cardiff, and are shocked when it's thrown into the back of a van by some masked men. They follow a trail back to a warehouse, where they find the Weevil-bitten body of a young man. Owen, who's been drowning his sorrows after Dianne's departure, reluctantly arrives into work to act undercover as Owen Harper, Jellied Eels Salesman, to find out about the main suspect behind the murder, Mark Lynch. Owen and Lynch discover they've much more in common than the former would like to admit, and Owen is sucked in by his distinctly nihilistic philosophy.
Lynch talks to Owen.
     With the knowledge that they've obtained from the still-undercover Owen, Jack, Tosh and Ianto use their pet Weevil, Janet, as bait to track them down to where they're being kept. At home, Gwen is having real issues with her relationship. She drugs Rhys with Retcon and then reveals all about her affair with Owen, begging for forgiveness in a scene that eerily echoes what Suzie did to Max back in They Keep Killing Suzie. She returns to the Hub after he falls unconscious, and the scene where she cries over her transformation since joining Torchwood is excellently acted by Eve Myles (it had to be, considering it's one of the rare scenes in Torchwood without any dialogue whatsoever}. However, her presence at the Hub allows her to catch a postcode texted to the dead man, allowing the rest of the team (sans Owen, who's already there with Lynch} to find the Weevils.
     Owen discovers that Lynch has been running a sort of fight club - competitors pay £1000 to enter a cage with a Weevil, and the one who can stay in there the longest gets the full share of the cash. Now that Lynch knows that Owen is in Torchwood, he puts him in the cage as a means to get rid of him. To Lynch's surprise, Owen, having more reason to accept his nihilistic philosophies after the only woman he ever loved flew off into oblivion, is unafraid of the Weevil. As Owen is being mauled, the rest of the team (sans Gwen, who's still moping} barge in and stop everything. Now that he's no reason to live, Lynch faces a Weevil himself. Later, once Owen recovers, he hisses at the Weevils in the Hub's cells and they back away in fear.
     I've said before that I like Burn Gorman's portrayal of the very complex Owen Harper, and this episode allows him to show yet another side of the character. Here the emphasis is on the character's underlying rage with the world at large, something that previously has only manifested as a sardonic wit. Like his previous centric-story, Ghost Machine, Combat is also an important point for Gwen Cooper. Her character arc is very well realised, and the comparisons with Suzie as made in her episode come back to haunt us. It feels very much like a Greek tragedy; she has become what she had always opposed. For once, the rest of the cast had something to do as well. Ianto actually left the Hub for once, and Toshiko managed to show a shred of personality.
Gwen regrets her journey.
     When it comes down to it, I love Combat because it got it all right. Apart from one scene at the end that was a little silly in its execution, I can't name any particular faults with this episode that can't be aimed at the series itself. The sets are gorgeous and fit the tone episode perfectly. Most importantly though, the script portrays a human drama that let me empathise with both my favourite character and my least favourite, while extending on and codifying ideas from previous episodes. Combat is the perfect way to lead into the finale and one of the best character pieces in Series One.

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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Review: Doctor Who 6.8: Let's Kill Hitler

"Shut up, Hitler!" Rory

Coming off the back of a six month wait, Lets Kill Hitler exploited Steven Moffat's excellent writing to not only develop River Song's character but to take all of my expectations and prove them wrong. Despite what its title may suggest, the episode's focus was less on the murder of Nazi leaders and more on the development of our our main characters, which was good for me as I'd been worrying about how cheesy the episode would get. Spoilers always follow.
     Contacting The Doctor via drawing a crop circle, the three reunite and The Doctor reveals that despite his temporal certainty of being able to find Melody, he's had little success. Then, to all of their surprises, Amy and Rory's childhood friend (who had never been mentioned before} turns up brandishing a gun. In some flashbacks it's explained that Mels was always listening to the stories that Amy and (by extension} Rory told of Amy's childhood encounter. Mels shoots the TARDIS console, forcing The Doctor to crash-land in Nazi Germany, where a miniturised crew were attempting to assassinate Hitler by impersonating a Nazi officer. After saving Hitler's life, they put him in the cupboard and Mels reveals that she's been shot. She talks about how she always wanted to marry The Doctor, and then, in a surprise turn, reveals her true identity by regenerating.
       Appearing as Alex Kingston's portrayl of the character, it's shown that this is still Melody Pond, who wants to kill the Doctor because of the brainwashing she was exposed to by The Silence as a child. The guys in the robot decide that River, as the woman who killed The Doctor, is a much better target than Hitler. The Doctor stops all of her attempts to kill him, apart from the last - poisened lipstick that prevents him regenerating. Melody goes off to cause mayhem in the Reich while The Doctor stumbles off to his TARDIS and Amy and Rory, as friends of The Doctor and relatives of River, are miniturised into the robot.
The penny drops.
     The Doctor arrives just in time to stop the robot from killing Melody, and she's impressed when he still tries to save Amy and Rory (in a fast-collapsing robot}. To her surprise, she can pilot the TARDIS as she was born there. They save Amy and Rory, and then, after The Doctor whispers something into her ear, she uses up her remaining regenerations to save The Doctor and ends up enrolling at a University.
      The reason why Hitler and the Reich were in this episode felt a little thin when it came down to the wire; Had Melody chosen to interupt a different figure in her quest to kill The Doctor, she wouldn't have run into the time-travelling robot and this scenario would have ended very differently. At the end of the day it feels much more like a publicity stunt, which really, really irritates me.
       The entire "Mels" part of the plot was very annoying despite how "clever" it felt afterwards. The character was an obvious retcon and her only saving grace was that she went on to be revealed as River Song. It is nice to see this side of River's character and to really flesh her out in an unexpected way, but this felt really clumsy. Of course, after the reveal of her parentage there were cries of Mum and Dad abound, terminology that felt a little jarring coming from the pointedly older River.
      These reviews are admittedly very difficult for me because I can only talk about the plot; the rest of the episode was spot on, as usual - the acting was great, the set design was inspired and Murray Gold's score hit the spot again. Then again, studying the plot isn't that useful, either, because Moffat is very good at series-long arcs and there's still a lot for us to see before I can truly look at this episode in the correct context.
"Who's River Song?"
     So I'll sum up by saying this episode works at its best as the premier to this second semi-series. It was exciting, intrigueing and well-made from the off-set, with excellent character development, sci-fi ideas and humour. As it stands it's an excellent piece of Nu-Who and really the only criticism that I can find is that the episode's namesake was involved at all. Good Job, Moffat. I'm really looking forward to the rest.

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Friday, 26 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.10: Out of Time

Fred, Dianne and Emma-Louise enter a supermarket.
As the finale to our story creeps up on us, Out of Time presents something of an enigma. Instead of one story, it instead splits into three stories looking at one member of the Torchwood team and a guest character (again leaving Tosh and Ianto in the lurch}. While this allows for some nice variation, it also means that some areas of the episodes are very different to the others in quite ominous ways. At times Out of Time is a drama, a tragedy and a comedy, and because the three stories are interspliced it has a jarring feel to it.
     Three people from the 1950s fly through the rift and are intercepted by Torchwood. Pilot Diane Holmes (Louise Delamare}, merchant Fred Ellis (Mark Lewis Jones} and Emma-Louise Cowell (a pre-Candleford Olivia Hallinin} are forced to adjust to the world of 2006 - they look for living relatives (and find none}, live in a hostel and are generally astounded by everyone around them.
       The weakest of the three subplots was the one that I suppose you could call a comedy - Emma Louise, as an 18-year-old used to living in a sexually repressed society, is taken in by Gwen when it transpires that her parents are long since dead. She adapts, talking to girls of her own age. Later, she goes out to night-clubs and Gwen has to give her the "talk" to reassure her about modern attitudes towards sexuality. Eventually she is forced to leave Cardiff for London, not only for a job but to make sure that Rhys doesn't become any more suspicious about Torchwood.
Fred's son has Alzheimers.
       Fred Ellis' storyline should have been the most poignant of the three, but it fell short of the mark because of his unsympathetic 50s steretype character. Desperate to find his son, Fred's repressive attitude singles him out from the other three almost immediately, and Jack was the one whom he felt the most in common. When the team finds his son, he discovers that he has Alzheimers and doesn't remember who Fred is. That night, he steals Ianto's car and, after Jack fails to convince him otherwise, he commits suicide by breathing in carbon monoxide.
       The main subplot was arguably the love affair between pilot Dianne and Owen. They begin flirting almost immediately, and then they have a close, sexual relationship. Owen finds himself buying her a dress and not being able to think of anything else. On their last night together he tells her how scared he is, because just after a week he finds that Dianne is the only woman he has ever loved. She eventually flies away, trying to find the rift once again and either return home or find somewhere new.
       One thing that made Fred and Dianne's stories gel was that Jack and Owen (respecively} have such great chemistry with them. It makes sense for Gwen, the most human of the team, to take in the girl most likely to adapt to the period,but here it really didn't work and for periods her side of the story felt more like Being Human-era cringe comedy. It was trying to be serious, with casual mentions of how her parents are dead and she loved them very much, but there's nothing to empathise with in her character at all. Fred's story is about watching the people you love die, and Dianne's is about not spending your life doing the same thing. Emma's "try new things Aesop" feels more like it should belong in a Sainsburies ad. than an episode of Torchwood.
"I'm scared." "I love you too."
     I have to commend the stunning performances from Delamere and Jones, whose portrayals only strengthened their storylines. I feel sorry and frustrated about Gwen in this episode - after such a great episode previously, this week we head towards the series finale as her relationship with Owen finally ends. She's left with Emma-Louise's storyline to work with, and that really isn't very interesting. At least the development for Owen and Jack was very well executed and actually had a bearing on the plot.
     So while Out Of Time's emotional triptych was a novel idea, it only two-thirds worked, and in a 45 minute episode that's still a lot of wrong. The episode simply tried to do too much with its premise, and instead of giving us a mature examination of life, love and death it fell back on the old comedy, "fish out of water" staples in places where such things weren't required. It's a great watch in the majority of places but it's a shame that the comedy is there in the first place.

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Review: Torchwood 1.9: Random Shoes

The Dogon Sixth Eye
The second series of Doctor Who saw the advent of a type of episode called Doctor-lite (or Companion-Lite, if needs be}. A means of making production easier, Lite episodes featured very little screentime from the main cast while more emphasis was put on those left behind (be that The Doctor, his companion or a guest star}. The first one, Love and Monsters, didn't get off to a great start, but all of the Lite episodes after that are some of NuWho's classics. Random Shoes feels like an attempt at a Torchwood version of a Lite episode, and this produces some interesting results.
        The episode follows the ghost of a suspiciously not-Welsh man called Eugene Jones as he follows his idols, Torchwood, in their investigation into his own death. He starts with a flashback to a school maths competition, where he not only lost the respect of his classmates but also of his father (a bit of a cock then, really.}After this his science teacher showed him an alien eye that had fallen from the sky one day, andever since Eugene had been obsessed with aliens.That night his dad left. Again. A bit of a cock.
       As an adult he kept following Torchwood, but the only person who showed him any interest was Gwen. They kept ignoring him - until he died, that is. After they empty Eugene's house of alien artefacts, it becomes clear that Gwen is the only one that gives a damn about the case. She goes off on her own, visiting the cafe where Eugene frequented and returning his DVDs back to the shop. As Eugene follows Gwen, he appears to have some form of suggestion over her - telling her to "ring Gary" and such. She visits his place of work, a call centre. They meet Gary, who's shifty. She arranges a chat with one of his colleagues, Linda, who describes how Eugene claimed that he would raise enough money to send her to Australia by selling his alien eye. In the end the bidding came to £15005.05.
Gwen and Eugene on a journey.
       Eugene's Mum shows Gwen the video of the maths quiz with his Dad's commentary, explaining the eye. They find that Eugene wanted to go because he found his Dad was, instead of working in America, a cashier at a garage down the road. Gwen can now hear Eugene clearly. Back at the Hub, and Jack explains to Gwen that the eye is probably a Dogon Sixth Eye - a spare that allowed the five-eyed Dogons to look into their past. He gives her the weekend to get the eye, and so she goes with Eugene to a science fair that they were planning to visit. Gary, it turns out, inflated the price of the bids to help Eugene's confidence, but stopped when Eugene started to think it was the alien. Eventually, on the day he died, Eugene went to meet with the alien after getting an e-mail.
     Gwen can now feel Eugene to the touch, but can't see him. They trace his last destination to a Happy Cook (a parody of Little Chef, I imagine} on the A4. Eugene remembers that he met his mates in the cafĂ©, who told him about their deception. They planned to take it off Eugene for 30 quid and then exploit the online interest for it. In the end, to save it, Eugene swallowed the eye. Escaping, he ran out into the road - leading to his death. Gwen rings Eugene's dad and the episode segues into his funeral. He realises his mistakes - and forgives his father. She retrieves the eye from the coroner, and outside his old house she bades him farewell. With everyone gathered together, they watch as a now physical Eugene saves Gwen from being killed. He appears and says godbye to everyone, before rising into the sky in a haze of white light.
Hi.
     While Marc Warren's narration in Doctor Who's Love And Monsters felt like an example of how not to make a Lite episode, the similar approach here actually worked because instead of being a silly, "let's chase an alien" plot, it worked as a real human drama about deception and its consequences. Paul Chequer's Eugene is as real and as quirky as the script demands and at the end he has a lot of chemistry with Gwen - a decent acheivement for someone he's only had 40 minutes of screentime with.
    It doesn't gel with the series' mentality at all, but this is still an outstanding piece of television in the regard that it manages to take a brand new character and make the audience emotionally connect with him. I even forgave his father - and a script that can make me forgive someone who left home because his son failed a maths test is a good one at any rate. I've been comparing it to Love and Monsters, and maybe I really shouldn't because the only person really missing for the majority of it is Jack, but if Torchwood was aiming for a more mature take on the Doctor Who universe, then this is the perfect example of when that premise is working perfectly.

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.7: Immortal Sins

Angelo and Jack
This week's episode was the first real sign of a move towards actually uncovering our main enemy, although it took its damn time and was fundamentally badly constructed. Designed half as a flashback and half a procession of current events, the episode felt more like a mix of Boardwalk Empire, Queer as Folk and Lost. While the slower character stuff would be welcome in any other show, Miracle Day's current record made it feel like a firefighter turning up to the smouldering remains of a burning building...
      Our flashback followed Jack picking up a gay lover in the form of an Italian immigrant called Angelo during the prohibition period in 1927. In between them having sex, Jack makes cryptic remarks about the future. The two investigate a piece of alien cargo - a parasite that makes people go insane, designed to attack President Roosevelt - but afterwards Angelo is shipped off to prison and sees Jack "die." Ten years later, when Jack returns to newly-released Angelo without a scar on his body, the theif kills him and invites people to watch him revive, effectively turning him into a visitor attraction for people to witness. Three men make an agreement to "own" Jack. Guiltily Angelo helps Jack to escape, but Jack escapes him after telling him about his immortality and how they can't be together.
     In the present, and Gwen decided to do a stupid thing and tied up Jack, taking him to an undisclosed location as ordered to by her eyepieces. They talk, and Gwen says that she doesn't want to be in Torchwood any more because she can't handle it. When the Triangle representatives arrive at the spot, three people get out (led by Star Trek's Nana Visitor} and Esther and Rex spring from nowhere and take the situation under control. Then the lead woman says that nothing has changed; Jack will come with them because Angelo this there.
      As you've probably guessed, I'm not "invested" in the storyline of Miracle Day as much as this episode clearly wants me to be. This thing has crawled along a snail's pace and I really haven't been interested in the majority of it. Most of it stems, as I've said three times now, the segregation of the two halves of Torchwood, and to this episode's credit they did work together well in a way which was typical and yet more fluidic. The flashback, while being a noble gesture in itself, was completely wasted. The first twenty minutes or so, which was composed entirely of flirting and sex, felt more like RTD's gay fanfic than an episode of Torchwood. 
      And that's really the problem. It doesn't feel like Torchwood, it doesn't have the same vibe. Series One certainly had its problems, as I'm detailing at the moment, but it still felt like you wanted to tune in for the team's next "exciting adventure." This long, drawn out and unfulfilled mystery with a team that's desperately fractured in all the wrong places doesn't encourage me to come back each week.
He gets better.
      This episode definitely showcased Jack, which should have been a good thing. He's consistantly been one of the show's more interesting and generally competant characters, and yet due to his newfound mortality he's been very much sidelined in this series. His flashback - what could have been an intriguing use of his character and a way to escape the rut that the series has been in - was an academic failure many regards. The writers' insistance that the omni-sexual Jack is only gay is further highlighted here, and it's incredibly irritating - not to mention the continuing sex scenes which add nothing to the story or to the characters.
       For now, Torchwood has redeemed itself with an interesting format (for this episode at least}and sign that things are going to happen son, but the show's insinuation that this miracle was as the result of one of Jack's gay flings isn't a good sign. As one viewer noted on Twitter, "It would be a Miracle if this series ended well."

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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.8: They Keep Killing Suzie

The undead Suzie Costello
The pilot's villain, Suzie Costello (Idira Varma), was very visible in publicity of the series before the show aired, mainly to preserve the pilot's surprise ending. What it did was create an intriguing character whose appearance felt a little wasted, and in this episode, heralding the start of the series' second half, the writers have given us an entirely new look at the character. Unlike the first half of this series, where great ideas and concepts were let down by poor execution, They Keep Killing Suzie is an excellent sci-fi crime drama with a terrible background. Seeing as there was really nothing new to this episode's roster of ideas, it had to rely on Suzie's gameplan - which, as is turned out, was messy and unbelievable.
      Torchwood investigate a spate of killings committed in their name, mainly with the company name written in the victims' blood. DNA tests reveal that the killer had Retcon, the team's go-to amnesia drug, in his system. Determined to discover who the killer is, Gwen suggests using the Ressurection Gauntlet from the pilot to interrogate the victims. She is the only one capable of using it, and thus finds out about a philosophy group called Pilgrim - a society absent from any records. One of the victims mentions that the killer is called Max, and that he was close to another woman - named Suzie.
     The team are skeptical but after searching through her belongings (kept in a Torchwood warehouse) they decide to ressurrect Suzie. As the Gauntlet alone won't work, they stab her corpse with the Life Knife, the weapon used by Suzie to test out the glove that has a connection to its function. It works but Suzie doesn't die as subjects of the Gauntlet usually do, and is thus interrogated by Jack. She reveals that Max is psychotic because she kept him as her companion and thus drugged him with Retcon every day for two years. Using Suzie's help the team bring Max in, and Owen finds that Max reacts to nothing except the word Torchwood, which sends him into a blinding rage for exactly ten seconds.
"Someone wants your attention."
      Gwen bonds with Suzie when she realises that she is a near-perfect replacement for her role in the group. Just as the rest of the team discover the reason for Suzie's longevity - she is draining life off of Gwen - she takes Suzie to see her father in hospital. They chat on the way to the hospital, with Suzie calling immortal Jack a hypocrite and revealing that there is no afterlife. Back at the base, and the base has shut down completely - because, as the team works out, of a command Suzie installed when she was alive to shut down when a certain poem was read - a poem being recited by Max.
      Here is my point of contention with this story. Suzie was, before her death, both lonely and obsessed with the Ressurection Gauntlet. Her lust for life would be understandable after her death, but this contingency plan for immortality seems a little silly for someone without any intention of dying at all. How could she know that Gwen Cooper would join Torchwood? Or that the person who did join Torchwood in her absence would have the required empathy to operate the glove? Also, I'm not a psychologist, but it seems to me that a weapons/computer specialist like Suzie wouldn't be able to brainwash someone so much that they execute instructions in specific periods of time.
       They call their Police Liason Detective Swanson, who told them about the murders, and after some ritual humiliation she relents and helps the team to escape. To this end they work out that the code to escape the base is the ISBN of the book of Emily Dickinson poems Suzie was using. At the hospital, Gwen starts to feel the full effects of Suzie's gunshot wound as Suzie becomes able to walk once more. They finally meet the two at a pier, where Suzie is now immortal - until, that is, Tosh destroys the Gauntlet, which severs the link and kills Suzie once and for all.
"You're getting shot in the head."
       They Keep Killing Suzie is the first episode of the series to actually fit the premise of a sci-fi crime drama. The murder investigation, while being a lot closer-to-earth, was actually a very interesting turn of events and Suzie's return was well handled. I've never really seen the character as a good villain because of the fact that she doesn't do anything obviously villanous in this episode other than smile evilly at things that she's done beforehand. Her ideology is supposed to be the most frightening thing about her, but I really don't see why, as a fear of death doesn't really shout "madwoman" from where I'm standing.
       As the beginning of the first series' second half, They Keep Killing Suzie sets us up for the much more mature stories that abound as we get closer to the series finale. Its direction and its more crime-oriented tone allowed a more potent emphasis on character that brought to life (both literally and metaphorically) an underused character. I want to hate it because of its reality-stretching premise, but I have to admire the skill in its construction and Indira Varma's excellent performance. Interesting stuff.

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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Castrovalva

Five levitates in the Zero Room.
Doctor Who, Season 19, Story One - Castrovalva. Written by Christopher H. Bidmead.

The Doctor that I knew the most as a child, due to repeats on UKTV Gold, was Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor. He was mild-mannered and more agile than his predecessors, as well as being more satirical than pragmatic. Under the watchful eye of head writer Eric Saward, Five was often more likely to walk through a series of events than do anything about it. Five's post-regeneration story is notable for being the true beginning of JNT's style, and also for having to deal with seven years' worth of familiarity with the previous actor. It's also written by Christopher Hamilton Bidmead. We've been over this once already.
      Though certainly not as mind-numbingly tedious as Logopolis, Castrovalva shares many of its problems. Nothing really happens until the second act, and with the new broadcasting schedule of two episodes a week, this means the entire first half appears worse off. There's also some terrible, terrible science, this time on a level understandable by primary school students. I wouldn't really mind; Doctor Who has never really been, "hard sci-fi", but our writer is someone from a scientific background, and he doesn't even have the excuse of the "advancement of science" - these ideas are wrong even by 1981 standards.
     The first episode recaps from Logopolis and then has the quartet escape back the Tardis, being chased by the Pharos security (played by different extras) all the way. Once inside Adric, who's been blasted by The Master's pursuing Tardis, sets the co-ordinates while a confused Doctor goes wandering through the corridors of his time machine. There's a really nice touch where to mark his path through the corridors he unravels Tom's trademark scarf and deposits parts of Tom's costume until he's forced to wear the new costume he conveniently finds - that of a cricketeer. All the while he goes through the personalities of his past incarnations.
Adric: Whine! Master: Cackle!
     Meanwhile in the Console Room, the two girls ramble and try to learn how to pilot the Tardis. They think they're drifting in space and Nyssa says that they might collide with something, because "the star density is very high." Really? Yes, Nyssa was brought up on the very introverted Traken, but their technology couldn't have advanced to the stage it had without them realising that a small object the size of a police-box is not big enough to find the light-year distances between stars "dense."
      The girls wander back as Adric seems to have disappeared. They follow the Doctor's path and help him into the Zero Room, a room isolated from the rest of the universe that will help him to heal after his regeneration. Apparently outside his neurological structure "gets conflicting outside signals", something that Nyssa agrees with. Then again, this is "high star density" Nyssa, so I'm not surprised. Tegan is, as usual, adapting incredibly well to the situation. After a really emo message from Adric, who's been trapped in a kinky-looking web by The Master, they realise that the ship is getting hotter and eventually discover that the ship is heading towards Event One at the beginning of the universe.
     Oh, I'm sorry. I surely meant, "galaxy", because that's what the science-expert's script says. Apparently the Big Bang wasn't any sort of expansion - rather, says our expert, it was a "Hydrogen in-rush" and "the biggest explosion in history." Let's get something straight here. The theory behind there being a universe of other galaxies originated in 1919. The Big Bang theory with all the appropriate evidence for this example originated in 1927. This isn't a scientific opinion on the part of Mr. Christopher "Scientific Journalist" Bidmead. It's lazy writing.
1980s Wikipedia
      The Doctor, now temporarily made magically better by the heat of the ship making "the adrenaline bridge the synapses," manages to work out a solution - they turn down the heat by turning a bloody valve and then jettison a quarter of the Tardis' mass to launch them away from Event One. It all goes well and, despite The Master's camp speeches, they survive. In the Tardis database, Nyssa discovers that certain planets act similar to Zero Rooms - one such as Castrovalva. Nyssa and The Doctor head back to the Zero Room, which it turns out has been jettisoned to help them escape. Since the doors remain, and they're made of the same material as the room, Nyssa follows The Doctors instructions to create a "Zero Cabinet." Tegan is very easily able to fly the Tardis to Castrovalva (don't worry, it's an actual plot point instead of lazy writing) and they carry the cabinet to the main city.
     Spending the next ten minutes or so wandering aimlessly through what looks like the British Countryside, the two set down the Zero Cabinet with The Doctor inside. While they're climbing up rocks, they're being stalked by tribesmen in ridiculous-looking masks and The Doctor goes wandering off, for some reason suffering from a bleeding wound. The two girls are chased by the tribesmen and find The Doctor wandering about. He's suffering from some pretty bad amneisa, and has absolutely no idea who he is. The tribesmen have take The Cabinet and find The Doctor, who they nicely introduce into Castrovalva. It turns out they're just the hunting parties of a much more civilised Catrovalva, run by a shifty looking bloke in black called Shardovan. He's the Librarian of Castrovalva. The place is looked after by the mystical Portreeve (played by Neil Toyney, who loves anagrams very much.) The people of Castrovalva are very well-characterised and much more like Doctor Who than I'd been used to with Logopolis.
     The Portreeve is of course The Master in disguise. At first it's difficult to see, but after the first viewing it's incredibly obvious. Nyssa and Tegan end up climbing to Logopolis and make their way into the city by natural means. A night goes by. Nyssa has the Zero Cabinet brought to The Doctor's chamber, but while there she sees a projection of Adric in a mirror, who tells her that the Master can find him anywhere and that The Doctor should wait in Castrovalva until better. The Master cackles.
He's wearing black, he must be evil.
     While Nyssa and Tegan go to the Library, the Portreeve shows The Doctor a "magic" tapestry that shows past events. The two girls decide to read the planet's history. There's a charming scene where a young girl teaches The Doctor that three follows two and this helps him remember Adric. He remembers everything and they try to escape, noticing that every path they take leads them back to the same square. The Shardovan acts all sinister as The Doctor realises that Castrovalva is subject to "recursive occulsion" - a "space-time trap."
     The two girls go off to find the Zero Cabinet to help The Doctor while he reads the history of Castrovalva, and discovers that the 500 year old books are hand-written by The Shardovan. He asks the hunting leader, Mergrave, to draw a map. It appears that Shardovan is the only person in Castrovalva to notice the recursion. Mergrave's map of the city includes four of every place. The trio basically paint the darkly-dressed Shardovan as the villain of the piece.
     As the citizens of Castrovalva take the Zero Cabinet to the Portreeve, The Doctor takes the Shardovan off to the side and realises that he's ok. The Master reveals himself and The Doctor breaks into the room by a back way. Shardovan, now persuaded of The Master's evil, swings along a lampshade into the Tapestry, which is Adric's kinky cage. This frees Adric and starts the collapse of Castrovalva. The quartet escape, as does The Master, but Castrovalva disappears into a haze of pixels. They head off for their next exciting adventure.
Turns out Cabinets have an NHS...
     Tegan and Nyssa carry this story in its first half, which is dreadfully important because while The Doctor is suffering from Spearhead Syndrome (where a Doctor is incapacitated for the majority of his post-regeneration story) they act as the main protagonists. And aside from some really dodgy science, I can't help admit that these scenes generally are interesting and well-written. Despite their major characterisation isses (Tegan adjusting supernaturally well to preceedings and Nyssa rarely batting an eyelid to the extinction of her race) they are genuinely likeable characters in most respects. They're human, and that's all they need to be. Adric meanwhile is an irritating twit in this story, spending 99% of his running time as The Master's b***h and generally being the whiney, smug caricature that people stereotype him as.
      Davison's introductory scenes in the first episode, and his actions throughout the serial, are some of the best in at least the JNT's period. They introduce a character that's immediately likeable that not only has all of his predeccessor's good traits but also a much more refreshing personality when compared to the later Tom Baker. They also use it as a tribute to the past while looking very confidently to the future of the program.
      Anthony Ainley's incarnation of The Master in this story, at least, is a bit of a loser. He seems to be trying very hard to channel the original traits of the original, Roger Delgado, but is forced to filter it through early Eighties culture. Ainley would be The Master for the remainder of the classic run, and he only really gets to shine in the final broadcast story of the original run, Survival. Here he only seems to have absurd numbers of backup plans - he has a backup plan when The Doctor survives the fall from the telescope, a plan for when he survives Event One etc. . It's all very disconcerting.
To the future... three years.
      The script for the second half of the story is much more well-written than the first and I really do enjoy the ideas put across. It really is a delight to behold, and in the culture of Castrovalva is demonstrated so well in such a short space of time. For all of the story's faults, with horrifically bad mistakes in scientific accuracy, its characterisations and later concepts make it a fundamentally good story that sets off Davison's era with the right amount of oomph.
      So when it comes down to it, I can't bring myself to truly hate Castrovalva as much as I want to. It's JNT's best intro story and certainly arrives as a breath of fresh air from the heavyness of Logopolis. I still think that it's concepts are either blatantly wrong or too difficult for the casusal viewer to invest in, but in the second half at least the central concept is really interesting and our new young lead is introduced in the best way possible. Hurrah for three years of Peter Davison.

Thanks.

P.S. The music is lovely in this story, as in the last two. Also, this is the end of the New Beginnings trilogy, but I will be reviewing the following story, Four To Doomsday.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.6: The Middle Men

It's comparatively difficult to get these images...
There's little, in fact, to say about The Middle Men. I've reached a point in the series where I really don't care. The plot holes are gaping, the characterisations are irritating and inconsistant and, worst of all, the story isn't going anywhere fast. My experience of the series so far has been like swimming in maple syrup - it may be novel to begin with, but it's slow, incredibly difficult and wrong on a couple of levels.
     Again our cast was seperated into American and Welsh, with the two originals not appearing until half-way through. The Americans faced Maloney in the stupidest way possible; Rex got himself kidnapped, tried to appeal to Maloney's sensibilites and then got tortured. Esther acted like a bumbling busybody (sorry, acting isn't the appropriate word here) and then wrestled Maloney to save Rex, and she still had to be saved by a Camp Guard. Gwen saved her Dad (third time's a charm, then) before blowing up the Wales camp and, using her lenses, somehow exposing the camps to the world. Jack, meanwhile, went and harrassed the head of PhiCorp who knew less than he did. The episode ended on the cliffhanger that the Triangle Group have not only been monitering Gwen's lenses, but have also kidnapped her entire family.
     That's very exciting, I assume. The truth is that I don't care about Gwen's plight in the slightest - I haven't since the series began. Maybe it's because I'm not a parent and I "don't get it," or maybe it's the more likely explanation that Gwen's character has strayed so far away from the likeable, human Gwen in the early series that I've no empathy left. Like Abby Grant, Gwen has become nothing more than a tedious distraction to the main chain of events. At least Oswald Danes had the courtesy to not be in this episode.
     The reason that, last year, I was afraid to review Lost (which I will complete... at some point) was because I thought that the heavily serialised nature of the episodes would make it too different from my norm to actually review. That didn't happen with Lost, but it is happening with Miracle Day. The direction, the music - it's all ultimately forgettable, something that Torchwood, a show devoted to spectacle and outrage, shouldn't be.
    I tried not to give into temptation, but I'm afraid that unless next week's Torchwood manages to captivate me in some way, I'm not reviewing it. Simple as.

Thanks.

Review: Torchwood 1.7: Greeks Bearing Gifts

Tosh doesn't like the mind-reading Pendant.
This episode was written by a man who I've always relied upon to produce good television in a variety of forms. He is the main writer and conceiver of the excellent Being Human, as well as the writer of two very good episodes of the modern Doctor Who. Here, however, his style doesn't seem to translate, and the issues surrounding this mistranslation are hampered further by poor direction and Daniela Denby-Ashe's miscasting seals the terrible, terrible deal.
     Daniela Denby-Ashe (rightfully stereotyped as Janey from My Family - eleven years is too long)
plays Mary, a strange woman who, after appearing to be shot in 1812, appears at the site of a Torchwood investigation and starts to seduce Toshiko. To this end she presents Tosh with a pendant that gives her telepathy, much to her distress. Using this pendant Tosh hears about the rest of the team's thoughts - Gwen and Owen's affair, Ianto's self-pitying dark mumbles and the dead emptyness of Jack's mind that comes from immortality. She also, in between arguing and bonking Mary, discovers the depravity inherant in human nature and actually saves the lives of a family about to be murdered based on the killer's single-minded thoughts.
     Mary, however, reveals herself as an alien (from a race that Sarah Jane Adventures would later call the Arcateens). She wants to get the tech that the team recovered from the site. A shaken Tosh lets her right on into the Hub, where she's eventually tricked into using the item, a transporter, which teleports her into the centre of the sun.
    We waited seven episodes for this first Tosh-centric episode and it's such a shame that it wasn't given the justice it deserved. Aside from a plot that relies on one woman's idiocy, (Just TELL TORCHWOOD like you said you were going to! This is clearly causing you distress, and there is a clear and open option avaliable!) the episode is reserved not for the examination of Tosh but for the other characters. I mean, sure, she cries a lot, and has an irritating monologue at the beginning, but like a few other centric episodes (Cyberwoman comes to mind) this side of her character is never seen before or since. Whithouse's gift for witty dialogue made some of the mind-reading bearable but it often went too far, stretching to the point where everyone on the street was on some sort of register.
Mary reveals her true form.
     Also, I thought the point of a centric episode was to make it easier for the audience to empathise with the character in question. Here Tosh, who had previously been shown to be a shy but proud computer nerd, became a whimpering, anal slacker. Of course she is reacting to Gwen and Owen playing football in her area, which is understandable. The amount of sports this group plays near all of the alien artefacts, you'd think they thought it was a youth club. I really didn't like her personality here for a variety of reasons, and that's pretty much mission failure.
     But, hey! The concept of Mary and the pendant are what's really important here, at least as far as I can tell. Toby Whithouse does specialise in great fantasy concepts, and I think that here he focussed on that a little more than the overall characterisations. The idea of the Arcateens is great - a societal system run by telepaths where abstract concepts and ideas are their method of communication. What let it down by a massive margin was Danby-Ashe's performance. It isn't necessarily that she's a bad actress, it's just that she is fundamentally wrong for the part. This character is supposed to have seduced the normally heterosexual Toshiko into bonking her, and yet she appears less sincere than a Coallition politician. (Agenda, you say? What agenda?) In fact, the only reason she seems to be here is so that we can have a full compliment of bisexuals in the cast.
     I haven't really commented on direction in my previous reviews, mainly because it doesn't get in the way of things. Here the direction is filled with fast-forwards, which make the whole ordeal feel like they filmed a two-hour long episode and needed to fit it in. This potent epilepsy-hazard style is just really unpleasant to watch and adds next to nothing to the episode. Case in point: There's one scene after Tosh bonks Mary where she's sat in a bed looking mopey. That's alright. Then there's a whoosh and the camera zooms out incredibly quickly to reveal... more of the bed.
Mary stalks Tosh
     I wasn't looking forwards to reviewing this episode because unlike the other stories in this series that are wrong in certain areas and great in others, Greeks Bearing Gifts is more of a decent show that's been skewed into something ugly. With Toby Whithouse at the helm this episode had great potential but it didn't deliver, and that's a real blow for me.

Thanks.

(The next review will be more Torchwood, but this time Miracle Day's "Middle Man".)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Logopolis

Hang on in there, Tom!
Doctor Who, Season 18, Story Seven - 
Logopolis

Tom Baker, in his record seven years on the program, came to become the audience favourite and define the series around the world. With 42 serials, 9 companions and 3 producers, Baker's long reign as The Doctor put his image and noteworthy voice into the hearts and minds of the British people and culture. It should be expected, then, that the final serial in his long tenure would act as a fantastic send-off and a tribute to his seven years. Well. Not if Christopher Hamilton Bidmead was on the scene.
     Chris H Bidmead, hereafter CHB, was the head writer during Season 18. A writer of of scientific journals, it was his decision to transform the show into something he deemed more serious. Logopolis is an example of this, unfortunately, and while it suffers from many other problems (of which I will get to) the main fault, in my eyes, is the staunch and often quite frankly dull tone this story takes. Hard science shouldn't have to be boring, but the way that CHB takes it and tries to mix it with the lightheaded scifi-fantasy of Who makes this story a bit of a let down. Not that I don't like Bidmead, of course - I think he's a nice guy with a penchent for science, but I'm disappointed by what he did here.
      Another reason why the serial has some issues is JNT’s masterplan for the end of Tom’s tenure. To offset the public despair at the loss of “their” Doctor, and to help viewers of the program who’d grown up watching him, JNT created a team of new characters (Adric, Nyssa and Tegan) and really foreshadowed the Doctor’s death. This leaves little room for everything else, as well as striking the episode in much the wrong direction. For example – a lot of the first episode is taken up with a very clumsy introduction for Tegan, who simply wanders into the TARDIS, which happened to materialise on the same spot as a real Police Box. Even Chris Bidmead himself says on the commentary that her scenes don’t really go anywhere or contribute anything to the bigger story. Furthermore, there's little actual reason for Tegan to want to travel with The Doctor at all - despite being effectively (albeit accidentally) kidnapped, she seems to get used to the ordeal in an unrealistic amount of time.
"In some ways have the same mind."
     Into the story. The Doctor and Adric are sat in a more rundown part of the TARDIS, discussing such topics as Entropy, why they can’t return to Gallifrey and, principally, The Doctor’s desire to fix the chameleon circuit. We introduce Tegan, an Australian flight attendant being driven to her first day at the airport by her aunt. They end up with a flat tire on a motorway lay-by, where the police box has been copied-over by the Master’s TARDIS. The Doctor is planning to do the same and take the measurements of a police box to a planet named Logopolis. They arrive, and discover a series of recursive TARDISes inside The Doctor’s. Meanwhile, Tegan wanders in and gets lost in the more rundown room, and The Doctor is arrested as we see that Tegan’s aunt has been shrunk, a la The Master’s method of killing, and The Doctor identifies it as such.
     The first episode is mainly composed of slow-moving segments of Tegan fixing her car, which really slow down the episode, and Adric and The Doctor talking in thick scientific jargon (courtesy of CHB). The soundtrack is carried over from the last episode, and is still as chilling and potent as it was there. Not at all chilling or potent is the cliffhanger, especially for the so called “new fans” that they were trying to attract.
     Adric creates a diversion to help The Doctor escape the police by doing what he does best - moaning. They get away and inside the Tardis notice that The Master's Tardis has gone. They try to escape but don't have enough power, so they burn up Romana's room as fuel using one of the Tardis' functions. The police here are pretty much dull, apart from their closing line upon discovering an empty, normal-sized policebox. Tegan finds herself in the run-down room, where The Master's Tardis lands. The Doctor receives a message from Traken, explaining that The Master had taken Tremas' body. They come up with a rather infamous idea to flood the Tardis by materialising underwater, "flushing out" the Master. 
Tegan and her Aunt
     Pardon? The Tardis, which has a more or less infinite interior mass, would not be "flushed out" by the River Thames as The Doctor attempts. Even if the water could have filled the Tardis interior, what then? The Master is safe and sound in his Tardis, there'd be no way of getting the water out as neither The Doctor nor Adric have gills. Even Bidmead admits that it was a silly idea, as before. Anyway, the plan doesn't work, mainly because The Doctor materialises on a boat rather than on the riverbed. Tegan goes wandering around, looking for "the pilot," and ends up in the same room again.
     Eventually she stumbles upon the Console Room just as they materialise on Logopolis, a planet where the people value mathematical computations and don't use computers - until recently. They've installed a large telescope like the Pharos Telescope on Earth and also have a shiny new computer. Logopolis is run entirely by lots of old men calculating things with abacusses and passing numbers along. The Moniter, a Noel Edmonds lookalike, assists The Doctor in his needs. Tegan recovers from the shock of landing on another planet ridiculously quickly.
     The Master, however, is keen on ballsing everything up. He kills one of the little old men. This buggers up the Doctor's plans royally, and his TARDIS shrinks with him inside in another limp cliffhanger. Also, Nyssa appears out of nowwhere with a handwave explanation. Oh joy.
The Moniter
     Like a scene out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the tiny TARDIS is taken through the streets. The Master appears and cackles randomly. Inside, Four is having a drugs-trip. The Moniter tells Adric to check all the computations. Along the way, he explains that computers can't be used because Logopolis' mathematics somehow change the real world and thus need living people. They track the errors down to a section of the street where the old men have been turned into dolls by The Master. Nyssa and Adric head off to look for The Master on the streets of Logopolis. The Doctor rambles.
     Adric thinks The Watcher is The Master. Nyssa is pulled aside by the real Master, who of course looks identical to her father Tremas (apart from the evil laugh and the penchent for black). He gives Nyssa a brainwash-brooch. The Doctor is shocked to hear about The Master as he escapes (now fully sized). Nyssa is brainwashed. Surprise surprise. The Master brainwashes all of the Logopolitians and outside the world becomes silent. The Master threatens the Moniter with the destruction of the Universe. He and The Doctor banter. Brainwashed!Nyssa strangles Adric to demonstrate The Master's power. 
     The Master attempts to restart Logopolis using Brainwashing but he's now started "Entropy". The world begins to collapse and a "wave" of Entropy spreads across the Universe. This includes destroying the brainwash brooch. It turns out that they've been "channelling Entropy into other universes." I'm sorry, but that's not how Entropy works. It's not a thing, it's a process of energy. Regardless, The Master and The Doctor band together to save the universe as a cliffhanger. 
Tegan wanders the TARDIS
     Tegan stays on Logopolis as The Doctor and The Master look for The Moniter. They look at some information about something or other. The two "The"s talk technobabble while The Moniter dies... "of entropy". The Master is knocked out by falling rocks as The Doctor talks inpenetrable technobabble. They get to the Master and free him, and they head towards the Pharos project. The Watcher is flying the TARDIS outside of space and time and they arrive at the Pharos project as well. 
     The Watcher chats to Adric out of scene as the Thes babble more. From the TARDIS they can see the entire universe, with Earth visible at scale (The Physics Proffessor is Crying Again!!) Traken has been entropy'd, which Nyssa finds upseting for five seconds. Escaping some guards, the Thes climb up the Pharos telescope (an obvious Jodrell Bank photofit). The Doctor has to connect a cable together to make sure that the "Entropy" escapes our Universe but The Master uses the Project to hold the remaining Universe to ransom. To stop The Master, Four must crawl out across a walkway and connect a cable. He does so, but at the cost of having to hang onto the telescope for dear life. He falls. The audience cries. We get a quick montage of his enemies and friends as Tom Baker is replaced by the white-faced Peter Davison.
     The review took a month to complete. Not to write, but to gather the willpower necessary to sit down and watch more of this serial when I could be doing better things. The number of definite articles alone is enough to irritate me. Unlike Traken, where our setting and main characters are introduced within the first ten minutes or so, the themes are clear early on and the plot has some oomph, here we bugger about for the first half before rushed running through heaps of technobabble. The first time I watched this I had absolutely no clue what was going on.
The Thes run to the Pharos telescope.
     Nyssa's appearance feels incredibly forced and contrived, while Tegan's less-than-endearing entrance and ridiculously quick acceptance of the matter made things all the more ridiculous. The Master, despite being the story's driving force, felt like he didn't deserve to be there at all. The entire concept of leaking Entropy as if it were a liquid is so against anything scientific that it's a wonder that it didn't blacken Bidmead's career in scientific journalism. For once Adric is the only character in this story (besides Four) whose presence feels at all warranted. 
     Tom Baker isn't my favourite Doctor, I'll say it now. I much prefer the camp satire of the later 80s and the ultra-serious Season 18 doesn't feel right. But he is excellent when he needs to be, and is perhaps one of the most varied and well characterised of the Doctors - not hard to understand, considering the length of his tenure. Tom, for those seven years, was the Doctor - their personalities were identical, and this incarnation grew along with him. He didn't deserve such a badly-written story to end on, and it's a damn shame that he didn't get the send off that he, the most prolific Doctor in the show's history, deserved.


Thanks.


P.S. This is very, very late, I know. This story was so dull and so longwinded that I kept postponing it for other things. Also, this is my 300th post! Hurrah.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.6: Countrycide

The team go camping.
Chris Chibnall is this series' main writer and so far has written every even-numbered episode. All of them share their ambition and all of them have decent sci-fi ideas at their core, but bad dialogue decisions and poor execution have meant that Countrycide is the only once that comes close to reaching its own image. His on-and-off authorship is a smart move on the part of the production team but it does mean that this episode skips over the events of Small Worlds and follows straight on from Cyberwoman. Not a good accolade early on. Countrycide by itself is probably one of the most gruesome episodes of this series, a horror appealing to dark fears about human nature.
      The team head to the middle of the Brecon Beacons, with only one town in a 30 mile radius. They're investigating a spate of 17 disappearances from this one spot, and the team are making sure that aliens aren't involved. They set up camp, and there's a lot of bantering about kissing, noticeably covering Gwen and Owen's snog and the death of Lisa. When Gwen discovers a corpse stripped of all meat and internal organs in the forest, the team is distracted long enough for the strange killers to escape with the SUV.
     Following the SUV's tracking signal, they arrive at the small village of Brynblaidd, where Tosh and Ianto investigate the SUV while Jack, Gwen and Owen look inside a pub. There's nothing there, and so they go next door, where a frightened young boy shoots Gwen, mistaking her for "them." Tosh and Ianto are kidnapped and thrown into a dungeon room with fridges full of human meat. As Owen treats Gwen, Jack finds another person who seems to know something.
Ianto finds some Human meat.
     A creepy old woman comes into Tosh and Ianto's room shaking, telling them that she needs to take them to "them". When they arrive at a butchers' kitchen full of human meat, the true enemies reveal themselves - the villagers of Brynblaidd have a "harvest" every ten years, where they kidnapp and canibalise anyone coming through the area. In a rescue attempt Gwen and Owen get captured as well, but Jack saves the day by storming the place and shooting the villagers in the foot. When Gwen, who's pretty freaked out by the whole caniballism thing, asks the leader of the village why they do this "Harvest," he says only that it makes him happy. At the end of the episode there's a Gwen monologue as it's revealed that she and Owen are bonking.
     While there's certainly something deeply unsettling over seeing (what appears to be) human meat and human carcasses, the mainly scary aspects of this episode were all in the subtext - firstly in the "unseen enemy" that stalked our characters and then in the savagery that Human beings could commit. With the number of atrocities commited in the last 100 years alone, it's not that difficult to image something like this happening and no-one batting an eyelid. For once Chibnall's imagery isn't too heavy handed, as with this level of idea he doesn't need that to get his point across.
     On the character side of things we finally got some development for Toshiko, ready for her Centric episode next time. She's been one of the most potentially interesting characters and yet we only know about her now. Strangely enough, her character is the oldest there, having starred in Doctor Who before Jack. (Eve Myles was in Doctor Who before her but that's hardly the point here.) Gwen and Owen got some lesser development as well, with Gwen getting more used to her new career and giving in to Owen's temptation.
Our enemy doesn't just look human...
     There were of course some of Chibnall's more problematic features. Dialogue like, "When was the last time you came so hard you forgot where you were?" doesn't exactly fill one with a sense of confidence about this episode's quality. The villians were certainly a comment on human nature but despite how horrific humans can be, their motivations felt a little empty. "It made me happy" was chilling but ultimately silly. Typical, then, of Chibnall's episodes.
    Most of all, I'm just disappointed by Countrycide. Like its author's previous stories for Torchwood, the story is based on a brilliant sci-fi idea but doesn't execute it with any of the necessary skill. This time came near to acheiving the blackened image of humanity that it's clearly trying to portray, and at times it is genuinely scary, but once one knows that humans are involved the only horror comes from one's own beliefs about morality and the potential of mankind for evil. So close, yet so far.

Thanks.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review: Torchwood 1.5: Small Worlds

Jasmine laughs as the Fairies frighten her bullies.
Torchwood Series One is, over all other things, inconsistant in quality. After the silliness of Day One came the serious sci-fi of Ghost Machine, and now to follow the farce that was Cyberwoman we're given Small Worlds, a chilling episode that focuses on a mix of ancient myth and real adult fears about the world. It also deepened Jack's character some more, which is always welcome, yet again leaving Tosh in the lurk. What strikes one most about Small Worlds is its relative maturity and quality in comparison to the rest of the series so far, with Peter J Hammond's (who also wrote one of the best stories of the following series) script on shining form.
     The episode follows Jack's investigation into the Fairies - a group of timeless, time-travelling creatures with almost omnipotent powers. They disguise themselves as the fairies of legend and choose little girls to "take" and turn into them. The sightings are first made by Jack's now-aged wartime-girlfriend Estelle Cole, which frightens Jack who has experience with the Fairies from an incedent in 1909. Meanwhile, a peadophile stalks a little girl, Jasmine Pearce, and finds himself being chased by the fairies until they kill him in his sleep by suffocating him with rose petals.
     As the Fairies are invisible to any trackers, the team has to rely upon strange weather patterns. They investigate the death of the peadophile and Jack surmises that the Fairies are back and protecting their chosen one. Jasmine returns home to her worrying mother and her evil stepdad Roy, who makes fun of her for having few friends and always wandering into the forests behind the house. Estelle meanwhile gets a little too close, and the Fairies come and drown her with an incredibly localised storm. Jack mourns her, but moves on when Gwen returns home to discover the place trashed by the Fairies.
Estelle photos Fairies.
     The next day Jasmine is bullied by two other girls and the Fairies intervene with a sudden storm. Torchwood arrive for the aftermath and find out about Jasmine, who's come home to her parents' five-year anniversary party. Roy, who's been a bit of a cock in boarding up the back fence and slapping Jasmine across the face, riles up the Fairies as the Torchwood team arrive. They kill him and open up a path back into the forest as Jasmine wanders off with Jack and Gwen following. Initially Jack is reluctant, but when the girl threatens to destroy the earth (as there are more Chosen Ones in the past) he is forced to let her become one of them.
    The episode's themes are particularly more adult than the previous episode as well as being perfectly executed. The theme of cherishing youth expanded not only over Jasmine's storyline but also in Estelle and Jack's relationship, with the episode eventually leaving the viewer to ask the question as to whether Jasmine, who is by this point a complete social outcast, is better for being with the Fairies, her only friends. Jack, in a way, must envy her new existence as his immortality leaves him alone for billions of years, destined to watch all of his friends (like Estelle) die around him.
     So steeped in mythology, metaphor and meaning this episode is that it's hard to view it when coming off the back of an episode like Cyberwoman. John Barrowman is certainly one of the key parts in this endeavour, his acting experience paying off as his silent gireving was much more poignant and meaningful than any of Ianto's sobbing. This episode's morose moments actually stemmed from real, "adult," fears - a double whammy of the fear of death and the fear of losing one's children - things much easier to empathise with than having one's girlfriend turn into a cybernetic killing machine. The only downpoint is the rather obvious CGI for the the Fairies, but that doesn't dampen their impact.   
The (obviously CGI) Fairies attack Roy.
    Really what Small Worlds does, in the wake of the previous episode, is give an example of how these things should be done. It's a shockwave of potent imagery and emotion, with excellent acting from the leads and a chilling portrayl of an outcast little girl. It's fundamentally well made, and that can't be said for a lot of episodes in this series. Small Worlds is simply a treat to behold, and stands as a key part of the series' development.

Thanks.

P.S. Ianto had three sentences in this one. And no sobbing whatsoever.