Friday, 30 November 2012

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 18

Tom and Lalla were a fun team, but their personal
relationship got in the way of their acting.
Written between 30th August and 2nd September 2012 

Season 18 of Doctor Who is always called boring, and I don't believe that's entirely true. I say entirely for the simple reason that, unfortunately, a lot of the season sorta is. Newly-promoted John Nathan Turner wanted to turn the show away from the silliness it had become soaked in during the reign of previous producers Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. In doing so he hired scientific journalist Christopher H Bidmead, a man who brought not only great real-life ideas but also a lax way of using them. He also took up Tom Baker's resignation, and began preparations for a new Doctor and new companions.
     The problem with using real-world science as your standard technobabble is that those words actually mean something. Oh sure, Pip 'n' Jane Baker may boast about how Strange Matter is a real thing, but that doesn't make the science in their episode any more ridiculously wrong. If anything, using real terms and ideas only highlights when you're doing it wrong. Thus in our first story of the season, The Leisure Hive, where Tachyons, a real world concept, are strangulated. Again in Logopolis, where Mathemathics, Entropy and Gravity are all bastardised by the man himself. Furthermore, while these ideas are certainly interesting and add a lot of maturity to the series, they are not enough to carry a story by itself, leaving the characters to wander around doing standard, run-of-the-mill things. The only stories that really manage to carry themselves under their own weight are the odd Meglos and the slightly Shakespearean Keeper of Traken.
     The series themology, surrounding the idea of Entropy and the end of all things, fits well as foreshadowing of the Fourth Doctor's demise, but a lot of the stories in the season only barely cover it. In The Leisure Hive, entropy is seen in the life cycle of the Argolins, who live for long periods then suddenly start aging and turn to stone within a month. Meglos saw the failing planet of Zolfa-Thura, and of the society on Tigella. In Full Circle, Alzarius collapsed back into the time of the Marshmen, and in Warrior's Gate the Vampires' society is already run down. In Warrior's Gate the Gateway Realm is collapsing and in The Keeper of Traken sees the autumn years of the titular character's reign. Logopolis, despite not really getting what Entropy is, caps off the season by seeing actual Entropy destroy stuff and seeing The Fourth Doctor's demise. It's a themology that really isn't immediately obvious until Logopolis, and even then we get an extra theme surrounding Recursion to cross over into Season 19.
Thanks for the ride, JNT. You'll be missed.
      Overall, my experience of Season 18 has been rather a downer. I like good Who and I like bad Who, but Season 18's mix of stories, while intellectually stimulating, just weren't entertaining enough to sustain my interest. I loved the themes, the ideas and the overal storyline, but the stories themselves were incredibly dense and I often struggled to get through them (State of Decay and Warrior's Gate being the biggest offenders in that regard.) After loving the rest of the JNT Era, I was disappointed that his first season was so lifeless and dull. Now that my coverage of the JNT era is over, I'll be heading first back to the season that caused this whole mess, Season 17.

Thanks.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who 3.X: The Runaway Bride

The Doctor and Donna meet unexpectedly.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Christmas Special - The Runaway Bride
Written 21/10/12

Ah. Yes. Erm, this is embarrassing. I had gone into The Runaway Bride expecting to have something deeply vitriolic to say. Hate to spread. Something really venemous to make good similies out of, like, "worse than an ameoba's painting skills" or "more tired than an out-of-shape flamingo" or something. But, er, no. I kinda like this one. Is it bad that I don't quite know why? The Runaway Bride presented something very strange in that it is in a way a companion introduction story that's about a season too early and feels a season too late. It isn't really special and there's nothing really that brings it above the rest of Season 29 in quality but there is something strangely rewarding about it in the long run that, for me at least, gives it a barrell of well-earned charm.
     Just after The Doctor has lost Rose Tyler to a parallel Universe, mouthy bride-to-be Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) appears in the console room, having literally disappeared from her wedding without warning. Disgruntled, he attempts to return her home, discovering that the bride worked as a temp for a firm known as HC Clements and has managed to miss all of the major earth invasions over the past few years. She's being chased by last year's robot santas, who are being attracted by the huon particles that are somehow inside her. They go to the reception, where they've started with out her, but it turns out that the robots can track her there and The Doctor destroys them. Heading to HC Clements to find out what's going on, they find that Donna has been spiked with Huon particles by her reluctant boyfriend Lance in order to serve the will of the Empress of the Racnoss, queen of a species the Time Lords destroyed in the Dark Times. Heartily pissed off, The Doctor uses the Robot Santas' bombs to blow up undersea base, drowning the Racnoss and only just getting out alive. The Doctor drops Donna off home and pops off on his merry way.
     I initially detested the way that Catherine Tate played the role, in a way which really reflects half of my attitude towards Donna in general - she's often loud and comedically sociopathic without rhyme or reason, and doesn't seem so much human as she does a walking sitcom cliché. As the episode progresses, though, we see something truley remarkable - RTD's first successful piece of Character Development, which takes loud oblivious Donna and turns her into a conscientious woman ready for a better life. This development would continue when she takes up the companion mantle in Season 30, and despite its ridiculous payoff in Journey's End (which will inevitably have to be reviewed someday) it stands as one of RTD's best-written characters. And that, fundamentally, is why, despite all of the things I've mentioned, I like Donna.
You may not like her characterisation, but you gotta say
this action scene kicks ass.
     But what was it about the episode that made it just right enough for me to actually like it? It wasn't the very, very ambitious villain design, which features Sarah Parish in the largest prosthetic the BBC ever made, nor was it the muddled but ingenious plot by the Racnoss to have the Human Race for Christmas Dinner. No, it was... it was Tennant. This is the first time since initial broadcast wherin, outside a Moffat episode, Ten hasn't done something I found annoying. He was quite brilliant here, actually. I think the general comedic feel of the episode certainly added great chunks to my appreciation, and the darkness that RTD so loves was given out in just a small enough quantity to actually mean something for a change. (Although I did notice that The Doctor is happy to let the British Army shoot down the Racnoss Web, killing the Queen... let's not dwell on it too much.)
     So... yeah. The Runaway Bride isn't anything special, I suppose. But what it does have is just this great feeling, almost like a buddy movie, of two great friends coming together for the first time. Add to that a great deal of decent humour, a hammy villain (MY KEY! MY KEY!) and a really quite good piece of Character Development, and you've got the recipe for a Christmas treat that does that and so much more. It introduced Donna, showed us a more subtle side of Ten and gave me a good laugh on Christmas morn and again when I rewatched it. Good on you.

Thanks.

NEXT THURSDAY: NuWho's first So Bad It's Good episode...

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who 5.3: Victory of the Daleks

Power Rangers go!
Doctor Who - Season 31, Story Three - Victory of the Daleks
Written between 12th and 14th October 2012

I'll say right now that Victory of the Daleks doesn't fail on as many levels as The Beast Below did, simply because its premise is one that is eminently workable. But that doesn't stop our good friend Mark Gattis from poking his head in and managing to make a mountain out of a toaster. My reaction to Gattis' work has been very mixed; I love his comedy work elsewhere, and his first two Who stories are actually quite good, but I found his most recent story Night Terrors disappointingly bland and his most recent Sherlock story, The Hounds of Baskerville, distinctly unimpressive.
      Victory of the Daleks was set to stamp Moffat's image of what the Daleks should be onto a race of creatures whose use in the RTD era had at first rejuvinated them and had, over time and over-use diminished them again. No more of this kill em all and make it up next time nonsense, we're putting the Daleks back into space again and we want them to look, sound and act awesome! With Gattis' fetish for old timey-times, the story is set in the Second World War (also a Moffat favourite) and stars Winston Churchill as The Doctor's old mate, telling him about his brand new weapons, the Ironsides, which are in fact Daleks in disguise. They're completely oblivious to the Doctor until he freaks out at them for being so oblivious, at which point his ranting is sent to a Dalek machine that uses The Doctor's "testimony" to crank out a bunch of new Daleks with a new design and a new attitude. The Dalek scapegoat, the Android Professor Bracewell, is primed as a bomb and The Doctor is forced to choose between destroying the Dalek Ship, ending the Time War once again, or stopping Bracewell from wiping out the Milky Way. Eventually he chooses Bracewell, letting Amy use the Power of Love to shut him down and letting the Daleks go off on their merry way.
     This episode's core premise, beyond all of the Dalek bullshit, that of Daleks hiding out pretending to be people's servants until The Doctor arrives and messes it up, is not a new one. It was first used back in 1966's Power of the Daleks, and this feels very much like an homage to that story. The only problem is that it's not executed with sufficient dexterity, time or energy - the reveal comes far too soon and thus the idea never gets the development it needs. We could have had so much fun with sneaky Daleks plotting things in plain sight, with The Doctor desperately trying to work out what their plan is. Instead, The Doctor is ridiculously forward and simply whacks the Dalek with a wrench until it reveals its evil scheme.
Would you like some Tea?
      The new Daleks are this story's most controvertial, most notable point, and the derision that arised as a result of their design meant that not only was this story effectively retconned soon after transmission, but that the Daleks weren't seen again for two years. The new designs are coloured in varying bright, childish colours, and they've also been given this horrendous hunchback which takes the previously compact and military-esque design and just makes it into this blundering toe hazard. I hated them, and others did too, and they're the greatest design cock-up of NuWho so far. And yes, I'm including the Absorbaloff.
     The guest stars for the episode, Ian McNeice and Bill Patterson as Churchill and Bracewell respectively, did a good job with a bad script, but I do object to Churchill's portrayal. After the show's history of political satire, it seems almost criminal that Gatiss has decided to glorify one of the most well-loved racist warmongers in the history of British Politics - not a man that The Doctor would really like in reality. I also found Bracewell's character incredibly silly, and the way he ties into the resolution is just as bad. As many others have said before, and I regret to have to say now: You Cannot Diffuse A Bomb Using Love. It's not possible. At all. 
     Victory of the Daleks is stained by a bad group of designs and a rushed plot that tried to reintroduce and invigorate The Doctor's old enemies and instead proved so catastrophic that it put them out of commission for a year. It could have been a riotous and powerful revival, but instead it clung to old, badly executed plots and resolved the thoroughfair with Moffat's first use of the incredibly insulting and ridiculously common Power of Love plot. It should have been better, and I'm sure fandom would be nicer to it if it hadn't come straight after another failure, but it really is poor form for the third episode. Luckily, all that's about to change.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: The Time of Angels is at hand, and The Doctor fights a battle of Flesh and Stone.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Review: Misfits 4.5

S4-Ep5 Preview Pictures
Finn and Grace.
You know what? Maybe Rudy's the problem after all. See, Curtis is gone and that's the end of the original gang and boo hoo. But Finn actually carried it out this week, and it's his second hit after the intriguingly creepy second episode. And while Alex and Jess's storyline becomes ever more intriguing and creepy, Rudy's characterisation remains compeletely stationary as an annoying, sex-obsessed dinosaur. I'm still not confident in the new characters' abilities to actually carry the series, and I hope our team expands from three soon, but our new characters did a bloody good job for once.
      Having discovered last week that his so-called father was in fact an interloper, Finn's journey to find his birth-father took him to his real, dying father and his step-sister Grace, whose power allows her to sustain life without actually curing her father's disease. His father asks Finn to distract Grace to allow him to die in peace, and on their night out Finn takes the opportunity to spy on a suspicious Alex, who is seen talking to someone in a hidden place. Finn confronts Jess with his suspicions, and despite her doubts she passes them onto Alex. Finn stops Grace from prolonging her father's suffering, and they all live happily ever after - apart from Alex, who catches someone and makes a rather disturbing request.
     There was no monster-of-the-week this time, and much like the episodes focussing on Nathan's past, we got to see Finn's family history in a reall well-executed way. After being a bit off in the premier, the writers have really developed Finn's character, and he's almost a replacement for Simon in terms of character development. His storyline again focused rather strangely on a larger real-world dilemma - the second episode of the series had been about the overall gender politics of young relationships, wheras this episode was about the argument on Euthanasia and whether or not it's right to allow someone to die. Heavy stuff.
     The problem, perhaps, came with the story's crossing over with the other subplot regarding Alex. As a character I'm finding him pretty limited, with the strangely juvenile, Pramface-style gay debate shrouding a larger and slightly more distrubing secret. The episode's sting and its sheer wtf nature was lended to more by its odd vulgarity rather than any sense of surprise - I initially thought Alex was simply a hitman, which would have lended a darker tone to the rest of the series, but the result instead is something that not only am I unable to guess but am also perhaps unwilling to.
S4-Ep5 Preview Pictures
I don't think I want to know Alex's secret.
      The loss of Curtis and of the last remnants of the "old regime" may have hit Misfits a little harder than it can handle, but it still remains standing. Next week's episode looks to be a good lot more absurdist and disturbing, and while I'm all for experimentation I am worrying that the spirit of Misfits as a gritty deconstruction of the super-hero genre with great characterisations is being lost somewhat in a cavlecade of Inbetweeners-style vulgarity and distinct unsubtlty. Next week... I don't know what's gonna happen. And that's making more more worried than I really should be with this show.

Thanks.

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Warrior's Gate

Bircon ain't got the noive.
Doctor Who - Season 18, Story Five - Warrior's Gate
Written 30/8/12

This is the last of my "new" stories from the JNT Era, and that's made me rather poignant about the past few years. Now, my journey through JNT is over; no more being amazed at characters written on a whim, no more wondering exactly why the story was filmed in Amsterdam, and certainly no more trying to defend myself from other fans' opinions (although a lot of that will still go on.) Despite this, I wasn't really prepared for the final few shocks that Warrior's Gate had in store in its mix of high-concept sci-fi, incredible boredom and absolute what-the-fuckery.
     While trying to find a way out of E-Space, the TARDIS is dragged through a Time-Rift by a mysterious Lion-headed-man named Biroc. On the other side, they find themselves in a white void where there's nothing but null co-ordinates, an ornate gateway with a mirror in it, and a large space-ship featuring a crew led by toughie Rorvik. Through some investigation, they discover that the lion-headed-people are called the Tharils, and their time-sensitivity allows them to plot co-ordinates in the Gateway Realm. It turns out that they used to rule this realm, using humans as servants, until a violent uprising left the Tharils as their slaves instead. While the Tharils are at least guilty for their actions in the past, Biroc and his crew treat them as Cargo and are prepared to destroy the Gateway Realm to cross into the Tharil's world. Luckily, the Doctor helps Biroc to free all of the Tharils and get them itno their dimension before Rorvik destroys the place. The Doctor and Adric head off back into N-Space while Romana and K9 choose to stay behind in E-Space, helping Biroc to free more of his kind.
     The visual aethetic of the story, while appropriate for the script, makes it incredibly bland and lifeless. The ship is a mix of military grey and ocean grey, while the crewmen's orange jumpsuits made me feel like I was watching Red Dwarf VIII. The beginning of the story, like that of its predecessor, is very hard to get through and there are similar periods of immense tedium throughout. Less, I may add, than last week, due mainly to Steven Gallagher's brilliantly conceptual script that uses grey-vs-grey morality to make every action the Time Lords take dangerous. The problem comes when the Tharils end up looking slightly better for it; their human servants are just knocked about a bit, wheras the Tharils under human slavery are tortured, sold and treated as bonuses rather than people.
Romana bows out. Without much ado.
     The story takes a while to pick up, and when it does it makes little sense. The best thing in it besides the concepts present is villain Rorvik, whose "I just want to do my job" attitude is much more ruthless than JNT's other executions of that character. He's clearly mad, but you can see the seeds of what drove him to it - his workaholic attitude, the many attempts to escape the Gateway Realm, a cynical crew. Rorvick's collapse into madness, culminating in the crazed cry of, "Finally I can get something done!" makes him a psychiatrist's wet dream. Not that it was particularly pleasant to watch, that is. Madness or no madness, Rorvick's sheer dickery made him a character easy to despise.
     Warrior's Gate made me rather regret taking on Seven's era before I went back to this season. Had I done it the other way around, then my final JNT story would be the wonderful Survival, whose themes would suit my ending better. It also did not suit me to be bored! The problem with Season 18 is that while the higher concepts and themes on show did make the show a lot more adult than the previous season, the show never really executed these ideas with the required dexterity. Warrior's Gate is no exeption. The sequences required to show us the dichotomy between the slavery of Humanity and of the Tharils seemed forced in there, as if the script was limiting itself. For the most part, Warrior's Gate was interesting to me on a few levels. But on very few was it entertaining.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We turn back the clock one year to see what caused all this...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Review: Merlin 5.8: The Hollow Queen

The delightfully evil Sarrum
This week was a little more interesting than last week. Last week I was pissed off because the series had reverted to Series Three territory. While it wasn't as revelatory as the first few episodes of this series, it did a lot of things differently and instead of feeling like a cliche, characters tended to act realistically in the given scenario. It was, as we saw a bit in Series Four, a well-done take on one of Merlin's classic plots, and for that I am grateful - we're finally seeing some development.
     A boy claiming to be a druid, Daegal, guides Merlin out into the woods on a fool's erand and he's subsequently poisoned by Morgana, who instead of finishing the job proceeds to just walk away. Back at home, and Gwen is using a visit by mad king The Sarrum to once more off Arthur, planning to use him to kill the king and then to double-cross him at the last second. The Sarrum is an enemy of Morgana's, the once responsible for her captivity prior to the series and the reason why the dragon Aithusa is permenantly disabled. Daegal, feeling guilty, goes back and manages to patch Merlin up in a few minutes; they then head back to the castle and get there in time to completely stop the assassination attempt, at the expense of Daegal's life.
     The Sarrum, played by the wonderfully named John Shrapnel (whom I swore had been in Merlin before), was this episode's highlight. Characters like him have certainly been on the show before, but Shakespearan actor Shrapnel manages to imbue him with a delightful sense of cunning and sheer malificence. He enjoys his work; he almost seems excited when he describes the extent of Morgana's torture. He's someone that we have reason to hate, and for once we can see, to some extent, why Gwen is doing what she's doing.
Merlin rushes in and saves the day as usual.
      The episode's premise, basically wondering what would happen if Merlin disappeared for a while, is fundamentally ok but is badly executed for a number of reasons. The first is the show's insistence upon having Morgana just leave Merlin behind to suffer instead of actually just offing him in a permenant way. Morgana's biggest problem is that she's either ridiculously incompetant or, when she does display some skill or talent, she ruins it at the last second by making a stupid mistake. Adding to that... why the hell did Morgana, after only using some of the most powerful stuff in existence last week, try to off Merlin with a poison that can be remedied by a single, easily-made potion?
     But still, this episode was enjoyable at a base level. There wasn't really anything special going on, and we were still left with that annoying status quo at the end, but it was an ok way to waste an hour and it looks as if next week will see the end of this terrible, terrible Traitor!Gwen subplot. For now, though, we'll have to make do with an episode that was fun despite its formulaic structure, and hope for even better next week.

Thanks.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who 2.X: The Christmas Invasion

Yes, Christmas Fever has begun here on Nostalgia Filter. While the banner still flies for these last few Autumn days, I have to start looking at those Christmas stories that I missed out on over the years. Starting, of course, with the Christmas Special that began the Christmas Specials...

New Doctor, new era, new characterisations...
Doctor Who - Season 28, Christmas Special - The Christmas Invasion
Written 20/10/12

It's been said on the blog before, and I've met lots of people who practically tried to tie me to a cross just for saying it, but I am not a fan of David Tennant's version of the Doctor. And I'm sorry for that, I really am, because at the time I considered his era one of the best that the show had ever seen. However, I was also ten years old. Maybe it's just my cynicism, maybe it's experience, or maybe it's just a slow realisation, but I came to see as I rewatched the Tennant era how much of a total and utter whazzock the Tenth Doctor really was. Of course, I'm not the best person to truly articulate the reasons why Ten is the way he is, but I will be doing some downright complaining if he warrants it. But, it's the spirit of Christmas here on Nostalgia Filter, and in Doctor Who. Heartbroken by the loss of Christopher Ecclestone after just one series, the nation wondered how the newly reborn Doctor Who would cope with yet another new lead. It's fair to say that the innovative Christmas Invasion would blow them away and make sure that David Tennant's Doctor was one of the most popular in the show's present history.
     Freshly regenerated, the Doctor crash-lands into London, and immediately goes into coma-mode, firmly diagnosing this episode with Spearhead Syndrome, whereby the Doctor spends half of the story completely comatose and out of the action. He's picked up by Rose and her increasingly worried family who, after being chased by killer Santas and Christmas Trees, are forced to help out when an alien spaceship owned by the Sycorax, an alien race who are currently indecipherable. Despite Harriet Jones and Rose's best efforts, the day is truly saved when The Doctor wakes up, beats the Sycorax leader in a fight, murders him and tells the Sycorax to bugger off home before he gets cranky.
The Doctor and the Sycorax have a sword fight. The Doctor
will later kill him, even though he's plenty of opportunities
to let him live. And suddenly Harriet is in the wrong.
     It is well known that I am not the biggest fan of Rose and Ten at this point in their respective histories. Rose after this became a lot more whiney and teenage-like - a regression, if you will, from a character who was young yet adult enough to take on the dangers of her travels with a smile. Hereon she spends nearly every episode either moaning or flirting, and of course Ten does nought but return her advances until he realises what's really going on and then sorta totally fails to nip it in the bud because it helps his ego to just leave his fangirl gushing at his side. Luckily, in The Christmas Invasion, they're absolutely fine! Of course the first signs of teen-girl-with-a-crush Rose start to appear here, and the Tenth Doctor's annoying mannerisms are ever present, but there's an optimistically awesome feel to the Doctor's portrayl that feels as if it looks back upon the previous incarnations lovingly. Tennant is playing the Doctor who he always wanted to be.
     However. Ten does one little itty bitty thing in this story that almost immediately sets him up for a bad time. Harriet Jones is one of my favourite guest characters from the early stages of NuWho, and this is because she is usually always right. She always makes the sane decision and she seems to act like a normal person would in that situation. Here, she authorises the name-dropped Torchwood to blow up the Sycorax ship, explaining that The Doctor's just sent out a massive barge full of Fuck You into the Universe and she's not gonna be there to see it blow up in their faces. His ego challenged, Ten decides to have a spazz-attack and uses ageism to bring Harriet Jones down. Now, besides the fact that six words whispered to a private aide (sworn to the Official Secrets Act) would never have the power to bring down a Prime Minister, we must wonder the concequences of what he's just done. Not only has he fucked up time by ending Harriet Jones' Golden Age a decade early, but he also creates a power vaccuum in Britain that leads to a series of fucked-up decisions. Firstly, there isn't a stable government there to question Torchwood's experiments with the Void Ship and the Ghosts, leading to the Battle of Canary Wharf. Then, next series, The Master uses this weakness to take over the world as Harold Saxon and eventually manages to almost-destroy Earth. And finally, after the mess with Saxon, the loss of Harriet Jones allows a corrupt Parliament to be there during the 456 crisis, allowing the aliens to pretty much fuck up everything. Good going, Ten!
"I say we'll go and annoy that planet next."
     But despite those few niggles and that massive final piece-of-absolute-trollop ending, I have to say that I really like The Christmas Invasion. There are a few sillier moments with robot Santas and killer Christmas Trees, but it is what it says on the tin - a decent Invasion story, that happens to be set at Christmas. Tennant's absence for most of the episode is probably to its favour in the long run, as it allows that brilliant climax where Tennant's string of inspirational speeches and decent one-liners simply bowl us over. It's certainly not the best opener in the world, but the bits where none of our main cast actually appear are a really interesting and well-executed invasion story that sets the Tenth Doctor's era off to great start. Well. Apart from that whole, me hating the main characters thing. Onto next Christmas!

Thanks.

NEXT THURSDAY: It's The Runaway Bride, and the guest star makes me very bovvered indeed.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who 5.2: The Beast Below

The stupid, stupid "Starship UK"
Doctor Who - Season 31, Story Two - The Beast Below
Written 11/10/12. 

Moffat... isn't a normal Who writer. He's not the guy that you go to if you want a straigtforward, "lets turn up at this place, solve a mystery and go home again" kind of writer. Every one of his scripts becomes so much more complex than that and, especially in recent years, he's produced a varying style that often reuses old ideas and puts them in a new context. While The Beast Below shares a few themes with the rest of his work, it stands out as an exception to his regular stuff and is perhaps the most straightforward script he's ever produced. It also manages to take a few good ideas, one massive terrible one and fit them into an under-running episode. How does he manage? Less than stellar.
     The story's main premise is one that I fundamentally disagree with. The UK, minus a dissolved Scotland, has had to up sticks from the Earth in the future, and now travels alone on a massive ship The attitude of one of its passengers shows that while race issues may not be a problem, they are incredibly distrustful of other nationalities and apparently live in a dystopian society hiding the secret that the ship is being powered by the torture of a massive space whale. Every five years, the citizens are told the truth and then have the option to either protest and be fed to the Whale or forget and have their memory erased. This system, put in place by a traumatised Elizabeth X, has been running for over two hundred years, Liz's life being extended and her decision being re-assessed every ten years by vote.
     Firstly, the mere concept of "Starship UK" is so at odds with everything that modern Science Fiction strives for. It's closed and insular, it shows us a future where patriotism has extended to the point where a catastrophic, world-threatening disaster isn't enough to stop people's national pride - and don't start tearing up in joy, that's a fucking nightmare. It wasn't just one country that put man into space, that split the atom, that discovered the Higgs Boson, it was a collaboration of many. I mean, how is this progress? At the end of this story, the corrupt government is still in place, the people of the UK-sans-Scotland are still under the control of a near-immortal Queen and her batshit-insane group of robots. There are still people living in fear on the streets, there isn't a proper voting system any more so there's no democracy. I mean, what the fuck, Moffat? How is this a positive vision for the future; if anything, it harks back to old war propaganda. Which, as we'll see, fits perfectly with the next episode.
     Moffat also spends time firing potshots at people. The creature's mouth and resulting vomit funnel is revealed to be directly beneath the area corresponding to the North-West of England, while all of the fun and important parts are predominantly Southern. Despite being a Scotsman, Moffat managed to somehow bring the stupidity of English geographical snobbery into Doctor Who, a show that celebrates differences and doesn't abide putting people down when they don't deserve it. Worst of all though is the fact that for some reason (likely so we can have the "cool" and "street" Liz Ten), in 1200 years the UK is still ruled by what now seems to be an absolute monarchy. Again, it doesn't make any sense and serves only to allow Moffat to make jokes about the Royal Family.
Init, you get me?
     But what about the episode itself, Andrew? It's themes are surely not the entire point of it? What about how it works as an adventure? Well, the episode certainly feels like the most traditionally structured since probably The Unicorn and the Wasp, and it's totally different from any Moffat story before or since. There were a few things which were unnecesary or silly, especially Liz Ten and the Smilers. They had some nice imagery but at the end of the day they were strangely useless. This story could have been a lot more serious had this just been any old Earth ship with any governor in charge, and the link to the UK really ruins it. It's not all bad, though. Amy's character here is probably the best that she's ever been and will ever be - she's resourceful, thoughtful and intuitive. She feels like a regular human being rather than the gross caricature she would morph into.
     The Beast Below doesn't make me angry, but it does annoy me in too many ways. I have a real issue with the implications of its premise and how limited it feels when it comes to its ideas, many of which could have been really interesting had they been generalised beyond the absurd gimmick of Starship UK and Moffatt's flailing attempts at political humour. While it did give us some nice character beats for both of our leads, it also threw a lot of bullshit at the screen and expected some of it to stick. At the time we got rather downhearted about this episode, especially after that wonderful premier. Luckily the next episode is great. Right? Guys?

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: Damn you, Victory of the Daleks. And your silly story resolution.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: State of Decay

The Three Who Rule, looking appropriately hammy.
Ooh, doesn't the one on the right look like
Matthew Baynton from this angle? No? Just me? Ok.
Doctor Who - Season 18, Story Four - State of Decay
Written 19/8/12

Vampires, vampires, vampires. Who doesn't just love a bit of bite and suck, eh? Ever since the Victorian Era, those suckers have been on our screens in a million different forms, and they took cinema by storm due to the simple fact that hey, they're cool. Unsuprisingly, Doctor Who took on Vampires many times, both deconstructing them (Smith and Jones, Vampires in Venice) and taking them entirely too seriously (The Stones of Blood, and today's story.) State of Decay doesn't so much reference Vampire myth as much as it bathes in it, all the while wondering exactly whether it's trying a little too hard.
     Still stuck in E-Space, the Doctor and Romana head off from Alzarius and decide to stop and ask for directions on the nearest inhabited planet. When they get there, they find a degenerating society of subservient peasants, living under the control and reverence of the Three Who Rule, vampires themselves in servive of The King Vampire. The Doctor, taking a second to look up his history, discovers that these Vampires are powerful creatures from the Dark Times who were hunted to near-extinction by the Time Lords - apart from their even-more-ultra-powerful leader, who managed to escape through a CVE onto the planet he's currently sleeping on. While the Vampires try to convert Adric and sacrifice Romana, The Doctor uses his research knowledge to organise the resistance movement and storm the castle, using one of the Vampires' spaceships to stab the King Vampire through the heart and end their power. Everything sorted, The Doctor, Romana and Adric pop off in the TARDIS, The Doctor fully intending to send him home.
     The Vampires in this story skirt the lines between myth and cliche. A lot like The Daemons and later The Satan Pit, the creatures in this story purport to be those that inspired the myths in Human lore, which goes to explain some of their more cliched aspects - pale skin, fear of certain herbs, reliance on the blood from the living to survive. Of course, these are just human scouts who have fallen under the influence of the Great Vampire, but that doesn't explain their eyeshadow. This "big secret fascade" thing keeps reoccuring in Season 18 - Pangol is a child of the machine, what appears to be The Doctor is in fact Meglos, the Alzarians are decended from the Marshmen - it says a lot about what the season is having to do with its ideas. Sure, the concepts are there and the ideas are strong, but does that a good story make? No, and so the season has to rely on revelations, has to rely upon twists and turns in order to inject some suspense into things.
Romana just tried to get through a montage of the
story's slow bits.
     And that was my biggest problem with State of Decay. It was so... so run-of-the-mill that it didn't invoke any response in me, apart from a chuckle at the few jokes and a slow awe at Tom's monologuing (which I could listen to all day.) I mean, there were some fun bits here or there that dealt more openly with the sci-fi bits in the premise, but that Draculean stuff with peasants, Lords and chosen ones was bland as all hell. Even something like The Androids of Tara, which was based entirely upon a story of Lord and Ladies, managed to make said story really, really fun. This? Well, I liked bits of it, and the overall premise, but it felt much like trying to make my way through a shallow bog; there were high points, but the low points were boggy enough to dampen the whole enterprise. I can't laugh with it. I can't even find anything to laugh at. And I certainly wasn't on the edge of my seat.
      This is a Terrence Dicks script, so I don't want to be so down on it, but there were long stretches where it was simply far too dull. The end result certainly isn't bad, by any stretch of the word, but it is burdoned by an overemphasis on some of the traditional elements of Vampire folklore, which tend to whitewash the interesting, creative new ideas. This story won't be remembered as "the one with all the Gallifreyan lore." It'll be called, "That one with the vampires." And while that may not be a bad thing, the story just doesn't execute its key concepts with enough dexterity to keep me sufficiently interested.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: I finish all of JNT, and the E-Space Trilogy, as we try to pass the Warrior's Gate.