Monday, 30 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Invasion (Revisited)

A warm welcome to Nostalgia Filter on this special day! What makes it so special, you ask? Well, if I've got my sums right, this is the 1000th Post on this blog! I'm so grateful to be here writing for you all after six years and countless changes, and I'm also really glad that this anniversary has fallen on a corker of an episode...
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See here for my previous look at this story.

An iconic image, for sure. Which is why it's been reproduced
with every other design since.
Doctor Who - Season Six, Story Three - The Invasion
Written 2/10/15

We've finally reached the end of Cyberman Month, and we end it on a bang - The Invasion is a blistering eight episodes long, and is the home of a number of important Doctor Who firsts. Despite being remembered as the story where the Cybermen march on St. Paul's, the story actually spends half of its 200 minute runtime as a slow-burning conspiracy thriller, the Cybermen not being revealed until the cliffhanger of Episode Four. This is not a bad thing though, as it's this quality which makes it stand out, and which would lead it to have a profound effect on the show come next season.
     Upon landing in 1970s England, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that their old friend Professor Travers has gone off to America, with Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel taking their place. Watkins has been kidnapped by International Electromatics, a mysterious and powerful company owned by the mysterious Tobias Vaughn. Vaughn is colluding with an alien force in order to rule the world, but when The Doctor and Jamie discover that said alien race is the Cybermen, they realise far sooner than he does that they will simply toss him aside once their invasion begins. With the help of Vaughn and The Doctor's old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, founder of UNIT, The Doctor foils the Cybermen's plot to kill all life on Earth.
     I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the longer stories in the Classic Series could be shortened or broken up into smaller, more compact affairs - this is mainly due to the way I started with the shorter serials in the 80s and how used I am to the way TV is today. The same is true of The Invasion, although I don't think you could scrape more than an episode from its runtime when you really break it down. The first four episodes, in which the Cybermen only appear for a few seconds, works as a standalone story with a cliffhanger at the end, in which two characters get kidnapped, and rescued. Episode Four feels climactic in that way, and this aides the pacing no end. It also unfortunately leaves all the padding to the fifth and sixth episode, meaning that the Cybermen's reveal isn't really capitalised on.
The reveal of the first Cyberman in the story is
arguably better animated.
     And that's true of the Cybermen throughout this story. Their redesign is great, even if it seems a little weird to stick the huge rectangular earmuffs onto the side of the Cybermen's heads. The Cybermen here don't really have their own agency within the story, spending the vast majority of it as footsoldiers for either Vaughn or their Cyber-Planner, an obscure computer brought forward from The Wheel In Space. It's because of this that this doesn't really stand out as a Cyberman story, with the far more interesting (and relevant) villain being Vaughn himself. Played by Kevin Stoney (who last appeared as the traitorous Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan), Vaughn is a wonderful calculating villain, methodical and intelligent, his only failings being his incredible hubris in thinking he could control the Cybermen and his over-reliance on his underlings to do all the important things for him.
     Seeing as we have been addressing some of the sexism present in these stories, let us now turn to the biggest bit of padding in this story, an attempt at addressing sexism which ends up falling on its arse. Soon after the reveal, photographer Isabel insists that she wants to go and see these Cybermen, wishing to go wandering in the sewers to take photographs of them. This escapade, which Zoe ends up supporting, inevitably goes wrong when a group of Cybermen attack them in the sewers, leading to UNIT having to engage the Cybermen directly. It's a dual blow to the entire purpose of the scene, because ultimately Isabel is made to look a fool when it all goes awry, and Isabel's attempt to point out the Brigadier's sexist attitude doesn't work when the thing she's suggesting is ridiculously dangerous and irresponsible for two lone people to go and do.
     This episode sees the return of The Brigadier, previously a colonel, from The Web of Fear. Since his escapade with The Doctor in the London Underground, he's set up the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, known to us and to Doctor Who history as UNIT. The organisation, with and without its founder, would continue from this point to make appearances even to the present day, with their last appearance being in the Series Nine premier. The first appearance of UNIT shapes the story - The Doctor now has assistance to his endeavors, be they through the use of superior infrastructure or simply through the precise application of military force. This created a whole new dynamic for the show which the Third Doctor would come to rely on almost exclusively in his first few years, with The Doctor and companions both working with and having moral complaints with UNIT and its members.
PACKERRR!!
     Cybermen Month has seen me watch several pieces of animated Doctor Who, and I'll be doing the same thing next week when I review The Ice Warriors. This was, in fact, the first serial to be given this treatment, with episodes 1 and 4 being animated by famous British animation company Cosgrove Hall. It's surprising it took this long for this to have become a thing. The animated episodes are of course not perfect substitution for the original, and it can be argued that there is a lot of detail in the direction lost with the move towards animation. But the animation also allows a lot of the feel of each episode to be set by Cosgrove Hall's expert art design, and it really makes the beginning of the serial that much more tense for it.
     The Invasion is not a story which particularly highlights the Cybermen in terms of their mythology or history, beyond being their earliest chronological appearance within the show's universe. It is, however, an excellent Doctor Who story, a brilliant tense thriller with minimal padding, a really enjoyable villain and a story format which would go on to transform the show and bring it into the world of colour. I hoped with Cybermen week to give a thorough idea of where the Cybermen came from, as well as to go back and learn more about the Troughton years. If I can have anything happen for you, dear reader, as a result of this, it's that you go and see The Invasion. You really won't regret it.

Thanks.

NEXT TUESDAY: We shuffle back a season as we begin looking at stories starring The Ice Warriors.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.11: Heaven Sent

The Doctor loses himself in the Time Lord castle.
Back in 1977, upon the departure of Sarah Jane Smith, Tom Baker asked the writers of Doctor Who to allow him to do an entire story without a companion. That story was The Deadly Assassin, and if we're including the various temporary companions popular here and there, that was the last time The Doctor went without a companion. I was a little concerned that 55 minutes of Capaldi wandering around by himself might be a little trying, but I needn't have worried - the man is an acting giant, and he single-handedly carries this bizarre thought experiment through to its glorious, glorious end. Spoilers follow, as usual.
      Teleported to a mysterious castle by Mayor Me in the previous episode, The Doctor is stalked by The Veil, a creature ripped from his childhood nightmares. As he runs through the castle's changing rooms, he discovers that the only way to stop the creature is to tell the truth - specifically, to confess the secret behind the Hybrid, the legendary breeding of two warrior races that caused The Doctor to leave Gallifrey. He eventually comes across the TARDIS encased in diamond, and realises what he must do - the rooms of the castle reset themselves, and so upon The Doctor's death he can bring another version of himself in from the past to chip away at the diamond, a little bit at a time. Over a period of two billion years this continues, until The Doctor finally escapes and finds himself on Gallifrey, angry, and a stone's throw away from the Great Citadel.    
     You know how I go off on one about Moffat and his use of time loops, but for once this felt like a working part of the story which developed Twelve's character and continued a theme of anger and persistence, held together by a repeated line stated by Twelve every single time he "appears" once more - I'm going to find you, and I'm never going to stop. Instead of being corny or trite, there was some actual consistency to the rules of the episode's temporal skulduggery, soaked in tragedy and loss and creating a delightfully dark tone which the series has been striving for for a long, long time under Moffat's reign. It's also been pointed out online that this episode works as something as an extended metaphor for Moffat's episode-writing process - we get to see The Doctor's thoughts as he works out how to survive each deadly encounter, and as he works out that the creature is trying to scare him. Obviously I would have asked to look into the mind of a better writer, but it really is quite interestingly (and for once competently) done.
500 billion iterations of The Doctor chip away at this diamond.
That's committment for you.
      The time loop does mean that we can only really look at what this episode brought going forward, and hoo boy, that's some fun stuff. Clara's sparse appearances of a figment of The Doctor's imagination were expected but not too distracting, and I'm glad that the show is pressing through the fact that yes, Moffat actually let a character die, even if it's unfortunate that the only reason she's dead is to give Twelve character development. The end of the episode, with The Doctor looking out towards Gallifrey's Great Citadel and declaring that "The Hybrid is Me" left open some interesting possibilities - seeing new Time Lords again, the fact that Mayor Me is working with them, and the ambiguous capitalisation on that last word which will hopefully tie together this season into a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Time Lords! TARDISES! Gallifrey! Wouldn't be surprised if The Master turned up either. But Mayor Me definitely is. The Doctor is Hell Bent.

Fate of the Cybermen: The Cybermen of NuWho

Written 1/10/15.

This is Cyberman Month, where we've been looking at the original five black and white stories featuring Mankind's cyborg nemesis. I've also covered the five other Cyberman stories from the Classic Series, under Phillip Hinchcliffe in 1975 and later John Nathan Turner through the 80s. But what of the Cybermen now in the revival of the show? I've certainly covered all of the episodes, but it's often harder without hindsight to pinpoint the design and story changes which have brought the Cybermen from the swinging 60s into modern living rooms. So, in this article, I will be examining the history of the Cybermen in NuWho, and wondering where they might go from here.

This was in fact the first publicity image
of the Cybusmen. I love the head tilt.
The Cybusmen - 2006-9
Seen in: Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, Cyberwoman, The Next Doctor

Russell T Davies waited until the second series of the revived show to bring back the Cybermen, spending his first season giving a similar treatment to the Daleks. While they were made shiny gold and layered in a number of different political metaphors, the Cybermen were given an entirely new origin story. Instead of originating on Earth's twin planet Mondas, the Cybermen of an alternate universe originated on Earth itself, created by a disabled human scientist, John Lumic, who wished not only to end human pain and suffering, but also to prolong his own life and unite the world under the brand of his company, Cybus Industries.
     These Cybermen are strong, and sturdy, their design featuring a more angular face and a headplate which from behind recalls a roman helmet. Much was made of the Cybermen's reduction to "stampy metal robots," in the fan consciousness at the time, but this is somewhat unfair - if anything, these Cybermen harken back to the "boiler-suit" design from the middle three Sixties stories, except this time with a budget to fully execute the idea. While their voice was fairly memorable and well done (ta to Nicholas Briggs), they were imbued with a few new catch-phrases indicative of the change in their overall philosophy - "Delete", "Upgrade" and similar phrases likening their thoughts to computer software.
     That change in philosophy is a distinctly modern one. The original Cybermen were a reactionary fear to the use of cybernetics in medicine - artificial hearts, artificial limbs. They were the whole concept of prosthesis medicine taken to a logical extreme, in which a person's entire body is replaced and thus, in the eyes of Kitt Pedler and Gerry Davis, so is the soul. RTD's Cybermen - or the "Cybusmen" as fans call them - are an attempt to apply the same method to capitalism, more specifically to companies like Apple. Rise of the Cybermen sees everyone on the Alternate Earth owning a Cybus Industries "earpod" which downloads information directly into people's brains, and from this we can see the Cybusmen as a particularly heavy-handed message to not let corporations tell you what to think and what to feel.
Of course Chris Chibnall would give a Cyberman a metal bra
and heels. Talk about fetishes.
     But allegory aside, one area where I think that the Cybusmen excel over their previous incarnations is the fear and paranoia that they produce. Conversion between human and Cyberman was only actually seen in a single story of the Classic Series - the often derided Attack of the Cybermen. With the Cybusmen, we see the population of London marching into factories, waiting outside little cubicles, and then wandering in as their brain is surgically extracted from their body and placed into a Cybus Industries shell. It's obviously not as gory as I'm making it sound, but the whole idea of extracting and reprogramming the brain rather than slowly switching body parts means that becoming a Cyberman is an act of complete and utter dehumanisation. Some of my favourite moments from the Rise/Age two-parter came when the Cybermen ended up for one reason or another referring to their former selves, especially the Parallel Jackie Tyler, which just hits you as a gut-punch that this person, while not dead, is irreversible changed. It's fantastic.
     The Cybusmen within Series Two were at their most effective. I was glad that the show used them sparingly, and used them to influence a large part of the show's ongoing mythos. While Cyberwoman was quite, quite ridiculous, it had all of the body horror, all of the adult fears about losing the ones you love, and it also presented the whole idea of a single Cyber-conversion unit as a terrifying thing. While their execution in The Next Doctor was a little more experimental and weird, I think it was still an interesting use of the concept, and I can't really think of anything more awesome to do with your cybernetic guys than to stick them in Victorian England and make them create a slave-driven steampunk mecha. Oh. Yeah.

Hold on... that's a Preacher gun. From the Parallel Universe.
The Cybusmen never even wielded those, this is ridiculous.
The Fake Cybusmen - 2010-11
Seen in: The Pandorica Opens, A Good Man Goes To War, Closing Time, Nightmare In Silver (briefly).

Moffat's first move upon taking the show was to hoist a major redesign onto the Daleks, who had to be included at least once per year in order to fulfil the BBC's contract. However wise that decision was given that as of writing we just had a massive Dalek episode and not a single "New Paradigm" Dalek actually appeared, it led to the apparent explanation that the Cybermen couldn't be redesigned, because the budget had gone towards the new Daleks and the new Silurians. Why bother to bring them back, then, if it's going to be a continuity nightmare? Ha. Moffat doesn't care about keeping continuity within the show as he runs it, only in making references to Classic Who in some bizarre effort to please the fanbase.
     In this period of the Cybermen's history, there was a motion to distance the show from their alternate-universe origin, with the idea being that the Cybermen we were seeing were the originals from our Universe. However, the only concessions made to this were the removal of the "C" plate in the centre of their chests, and the fact that they now apparently have vast fleets of interstellar spacecraft that The Doctor can blow up as and when he pleases. Their catchphrases have changed as well, with at least one Cyberman screaming the Borg cry of "Assimilate" and for some ungodly reason having tentacles in its head. At least one fan theory espouses the idea that some of the Cybusmen remained in our universe at the end of Doomsday and found some of our Universe's guys, who decided to copy the design in the name of style.
Skulls are more funny than scary, particularly when they start
chattering at you. What's it going to do, bite you to death?
     The show attempted to make these Cybermen better in Closing Time, an episode which somehow managed to be the most disappointing thing in Series Six - no mean feat, I'll tell you. They had them skulking under a department store, kidnapping people, converting them and making the use of Cybermats for the first time since 1975. But, of course, they had to spoil it by having the Cybermen's weakness to emotion (admittedly weaponised by both The Invasion and The Age of Steel) become so absurd that the sound of a child crying for his father became enough to melt solid steel.
     It says a lot about the Moffat era that they simply didn't care enough to try and work out what these Cybermen were all about. There's no ideology behind them, no basis in any form of metaphor or idea, they are just cut-and-paste villains who borrow a lot of their catch-phrases from The Borg. Which, when you mention it, goes to describe our next lot...

Some Cybermen face designs look happy, others sad. These
are in a state of constant dumb surprise.
The Iron-Man-Borg-Lovechild - 2013-Present
Seen in: Nightmare In Silver, Time of the Doctor, Dark Water/Death In Heaven

The excitement when I saw the publicity photos for Nightmare In Silver was just ridiculously high. I love the Cybermen, and I love Cybermen stories, at least in principle. Every time there's a new Cybermen story or redesign I tell myself that this time, it's going to be good. It's going to work, there's going to be a point to them again. The Cybermen are best when they are both A.) working off of your fears about being robbed of your humantiy and B.) working as a metaphor for some aspect of ourselves that is leading us down a bad path. The best Cyberman stories have these elements, be it the original fear of medical technology in The Tenth Planet, of unguarded militarism in The Invasion, or of dehumanising Capitalism in Rise/Age. The most recent incarnation of the Cybermen? They are completely gone. Any hint of being about something is gone, and the Cybermen are now mostly just empty villains.
      Their initial appearance in the romance-novel-sounding Nightmare In Silver brings with it a lot of promise. Their design is given a technical upgrade when a "Cyber-mite" (evidently an evolved version of the Cybermats) absorbs and reverse engineers a newer piece of technology. The Cybermen which result from this have super-speed (an ability seen in a single sequence in their very first appearance and then never again) as well as the ability to both adapt to energy weapons as they're being fired upon and to assimilate people using tiny organisms. In other words, the Borg. I make this comparison a lot on this blog, and that's because it's perfectly warranted, especially after that episode., While the idea of a plague which could rob you of your humanity is still pretty scary in principle, it lacks the body-horror and deeply personal elements which make the Cybermen effective.
Death In Heaven returned some body horror to the Cybermen,
even if it went about it in a weird way.
     Ignoring the ridiculous wooden Cybermen of Time of the Doctor (fuck that episode, seriously), their next appearance was in last series' finale, Dark Water/Death In Heaven, where they have become tools of The Master. This two-parter did good and bad things with the concept. On the one hand, the whole idea of downloading the minds of the human race and resurrecting them in robotic shells is key to what made the Cybusmen work, and so that was really effective. What wasn't effective was this whole business of these new Cybermen apparently having an entire human corpse inside them, which seems to go against the entire idea of having them now so easily transferred via a "Cyber-virus". Why attempt to forcibly combine the two ideas, when the whole "downloading people" thing is scary enough? Having people actually rise from their graves as Cybermen with their original bodies and suggesting that one of them is The Brigadier is effing ridiculous. It made the episode funny rather then terrifying, which as is the case with Capaldi's stuff so far, it was a hair's breadth from being.

The Future

There were accusations flying around during the Wilderness years that any interesting things that could be done with the Cybermen had already been done, and not just in the show, but in the extensive material from the Expanded Universe. Then, Rise/Age appeared, an adaptation of the audio Spare Parts, which was an origin story for the Cybermen of our Universe, similar in style to the way that Genesis of the Daleks had breathed new life into the metal pepper pots by revealing their history and ideological purpose. Whether or not you believe that everything good from Rise/Age came from Marc Platt and Spare Parts, I don't think that there is a Cyberman story which better combines a really good origin for the Cybermen, a set of body-horror moments which scare and unsettle, with what is a fairly decent adventure story.
The one on the right has discovered that her husband Gerald
is having an affair with the pool boy, and the one on the left
was the one trying to cover it up.
     There are so many possible stories that you could develop using the Cybermen from either Universe which would be fulfilling to a purpose of some sort, and genuinely fun at the same time. We don't need a full history lesson a la Attack to explain where they've come from - if necessary, just stick in some minor background dialogue, because the people who notice that stuff will love it and people who don't will love the story for being a good story. The Cybermen have always been for me the dark mirror of humanity, always a vision of what we may become, either literally or in metaphor. It's what makes them so powerful to me, and why after all these years, they're the ones I remember the most. I bought Earthshock, I bought Attack, because the most exciting thing for me about rewatching The Five Doctors over and over again was watching the many different ways the Doctor defeated the Cybermen. One can only hope that there will come a story good enough to inspire that same devotion and love in future generations.

Thanks.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.20: Favorite Son

This was supposed to be a genuine smile. I haven't even had
to pause this at an awkward moment, he holds that for about
two full seconds. Harry Kim, everyone.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty - Favorite Son
Written 4/10/15

There's an unfair stereotype made of Captain Kirk and the original incarnation of Star Trek - namely that he went around seducing hot space babes like some He-Man sex god. That was actually very rarely the case on TOS, but that hasn't stopped this plot from resurfacing in the spin-offs. From the more general idea of the Planet Risa in TNG and DS9 to the incredibly misogynistic Angel One, there is no episode of Star Trek that most closely follows this idea than this episode. Who is the sex god in question this week? Harry "I'm in love with a Hologram" Kim. The resulting episode is one which, in the right hands, could have played off of Harry's deep seated neurological fears of immasculation and rejection, but instead plays out like a battle between Gandhi and the staff of an Amsterdam brothel.
     Voyager talks to an alien spacecraft, and Harry feels the urge to fire upon the ship despite no provocation. He wakes up the next morning covered in spots, his blood chemistry physically changed, and having had strange dreams. The aliens chase after them again, but they are saved by a member of a species called the Taresians, who immediately identify Harry as a member of their race. Upon beaming down, Harry is swarmed by female Taresians, who claim that their species are implanted in other species and left to return to Taresia in adulthood, incoporating the host species' DNA into the genome. The species is 90% female, and so males are in high demand for lots and lots of sex. Voyager loses contact with Kim, and The Doctor reveals that he was human, before his DNA was altered on purpose. Harry fights back, and Voyager rescues him.
     I make a lot of light out of Harry Kim being a bit... uncool. This is not new. I have a specific "Kim Death Count" tag, I make jokes with him having silly middle names. Really it's a bit of a cop-out. Harry is an easy target for me - easier than Neelix, because when the writers feel like it, you can at least take Neelix seriously as a survivor of warfare and hard times. Harry is a pampered, naive Starfleet officer who repeatedly shows how very squeamish he is around women, and how adoring he is of his friend Tom. If you're going to work that into a character, then just do it! There's a lot of room for that to work - write Harry as a young man, struggling with his sexuality, either due to a crippling social anxiety around girls or due to feelings for his friend Tom that he can't really accept. It's sad that this never gets addressed, because despite how awkward it may get, it's still ten times better than this repeated crap that Harry Kim becomes as chaste as can be if the choice is between sex and Starfleet. It's like Non Sequitur all over again.
You're expecting me to believe that everyone was so horny
right here that nobody questioned this statistic? Psh.
      And this plays into how Voyager treats sexuality in general. I spoke back in Blood Fever how Star Trek was forced into a certain level of immaturity due to never being able to really address sexual themes. The story being adapted here - implied by a quote at the end to follow the archetype of the sirens in Jason and the Argonaughts - is one which fundamentally demonises female sexuality as something to be used for lies and deceit, to drive men away from their true purpose. For Harry, even if these girls weren't trying to harvest his body for DNA, they're luring him away from his ship and his duty. It wouldn't have been so hard to adjust this episode to make it just that little bit better - make the consequence of staying on the planet not death, just the inability to ever leave. That way there's a genuine choice between leaving on Voyager and staying to "help" a race genuinely in need, and you avoid the predictable and ridiculous "sexy ladies lure you to death" thing.
      When it comes down to the wire, the basic problem with Favorite Son is that it's ridiculous. There's so much there that could have been used to make Harry Kim into a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character with realistic aims and problems. It's particularly ironic that the episode which tries to convince us Harry isn't human does such a good job of ignoring any humanity the character actually has, making his entire inner monologue about how confused he is and how much he's looking forward to touching someone, as long as he can go back to Voyager afterwards. It's weird, it's backwards and it's far below what the viewers, the show and Garrett Wang deserved.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: Time travel mayhem and wonder in Before and After.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Wheel In Space

This is the first appearance of the "teardrop" eye design,
which would persist for most future versions.
Doctor Who - Season Five, Story Seven - The Wheel In Space
Written 30/9/15

Last week, I reviewed a story which had been recovered in its entirety, meaning that thanks to animation in The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, I haven't encountered a single episode that didn't at least move. The Wheel In Space is the single exception to the Cybermen's completeness today, with four of its six episodes consigned to the scrap heap, leaving only telesnaps (essentially screenshots of the episode at different intervals) and audio. In order to watch these lost episodes, fans have compiled these two elements into creating Reconstructions, which mix the audio with a slideshow of telesnaps relevant to the action, and CGI where possible. Given all this effort has gone into making this story watchable here and now, what's the story actually like?
      The Wheel In Space is the final story of Season 5, and it's fitting that in a season where six out of the seven stories all follow the Base-Under-Siege plot structure, The Wheel In Space is not the exception - the difference being that the story plods along for six episodes as opposed to four. This structure seems fairly unnecessary, and the first episode ends up being fairly tedious as Jamie and The Doctor are stuck on a small spacecraft, with The Doctor ending up concussed and Jamie having to fight a "Servo" robot which then doesn't appear in the rest of the story. The following five episodes take The Doctor and Jamie to the titular wheel, a space station above Earth which uses its x-ray laser to deflect asteroids. As it turns out, the Cybermen have used a complicated plan involving exploding a sun in order to sabotage the base, aiming to use it to guide an invasion fleet towards Earth and conquer it. The Doctor manages to fix the laser and destroy the invading ships.
     The script was originally by Cybermen co-creator Kit Pedler from before he left the program and was edited into the six-part format by David Whittaker. Pedler's influence on the script is clear - this is a Base-Under-Siege story, with all the same archetypes as before. There are a few decent roles for women in this story, placing them in particular positions of authority, but there are still several misogynistic moments and when all's said and done the only female character who doesn't die is the new companion, Zoe. It gives the story something of a forgettable feeling, which is a real shame given the season began on such a strong Cyberman story.
Episodes 3 and 6 survive, and they are welcome.
     Zoe is an interesting companion, and her characterisation is very thoroughly explored here. Like the Cybermen she faces, Zoe (apparently) has a problem expressing emotions, going through life very logically. As opposed to Victoria, who left in the previous serial (the show is much quieter now, much less screaming), Zoe is from Earth's future, and thus forms a nice contrast to Jamie's more antiquated outlook on the world. Her intelligence and cunning help The Doctor to discover the threat here, and in later serials would be used to outsmart enemies in ways The Doctor couldn't. She's the saving grace of this serial, often providing some of the scenes with interesting moments that the usual collection of Base-Under-Siege archetypes cannot.
     Watching the recons was a novel experience, and now I've dipped my toes in I'm much more likely to go and watch some of the stories that have missing episodes. I will say that I enjoyed The Wheel In Space - it's Doctor Who, and it's the Cybermen, what's not to love? But a lot of the story did stretch on, and the characters struggled to break outside the archetypes which this story format forced them into. Base-Under-Siege can create a lot of interesting stories if they're actually trying to say or do something beyond the surface of that format - Dalek being the most notable example. The Wheel In Space doesn't live up to the story which began this season, and it would soon be dwarfed by the next Cyberman story, which finally moved from this mold.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Cybermen Month comes to an explosive end with the eight-episode adventure, as 1970s London is struck by The Invasion.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.10: Face The Raven

This is from Clara's last scene. Remember when we used to
have to refer to all the different Claras? Thank god that's over.
This episode had the hallmarks of everything important. Two important recurring guest stars, the last single-parter of the season, and the promise/leak from Capaldi himself that this would be Clara's final episode. Clara, if it had escaped your notice (it had certainly escaped mine), is currently NuWho's longest-running main companion, having been in the hotseat since Christmas 2012 in one form or another. This episode, then, required a little bit of gravitas, and who better to deliver that than new writer for the series, Sarah Dollard writer of Being Human's penultimate episode. Despite that, though, a combination of okayish writing and having seen this moment too many times before meant that this episode felt a little single-minded. Spoilers follow.
     Rigsy, The Doctor and Clara's friend from Flatline, gives the TARDIS a call because of a day's memory loss and a mysterious tattoo which seems to be counting down to some unknown event. Following what he does remember, the trio trace back to a mysterious hidden street in London in which aliens live en masse, free from harm. The street is led by Mayor Me, otherwise known as Ashildr from a few weeks ago, who reveals that she gave Rigsy the tattoo after he was found over the body of a dead woman on said street, and that once it runs to zero he will die. His alleged victim is a Janus, a member of a race of two-faced psychics who had escaped from persecution and slavery from her daughter. Another convicted member of the street dies, but not before revealing that the "chronolock" tattoo can be transferred. The tattoo kills through the use of a Quantum Shade, which follows its victims through time and space. Clara ends up offering to take the tattoo from Rigsy to save his life, but doesn't know that once it's been transfered, it can't be removed. The whole mystery turns out to be a ploy by Me to send The Doctor off to some unknown location. Clara goes to face the shade and dies.
     Companion exits rely on a number of well-tuned things to make them work. They should feel satisfying, or if not satisfying utterly heartbreaking. This is kinda neither; Clara gets to go out on a sacrifice, one she made not just as a genuinely brave attempt at saving someone else, but in a clever "ploy" to cheat Death itself. It did ring back into last season's examination of Clara attempting to copy a lot of the Doctor's techniques, and it felt nice to see that come back and kick her in the arse at the end. At the same time, the fact it was the unintended consequence of some random, poorly explained scheme on the part of Me made it feel a little pointless. I was glad that the episode didn't take the ridiculously grandiose route taken by The Angels Take Manhattan, and it was a nice refutation of Series 7's "Clara is the most important everything lol" approach to the character for her to leave in such a random way, but it could have done with some tweaking. I was getting worked up at Clara's teary steps out into the street to face her death, but then started giggling at her silent, action-replayed screams and the following dodgy CGI burp.
Maisie Williams' Me is only really here as a plot device.
      The inclusion of both Rigsy and Me is underwhelming - I understand why they're both here, but they're not used particularly well. Rigsy is obviously here because with Danny gone, we had to find someone Clara was willing to sacrifice herself for that wasn't The Doctor himself, and despite not knowing him that much it was nice to see his character developed a little from vagrant criminal. Maisie Williams was distinctly unimpressive in this particular appearance, often appearing to be reading her lines with very little feeling or sincerity, and given the decent stuff she worked with in The Woman Who Lived that came as something of a surprise. Unlike Utopia's similar rush-to-finale ending, having Clara leave here, itself robbed of tension by the three or four times she "left" last season, kind of made you forget about the fact that she had double-crossed him and sent him to environs unknown.
      It's hard to judge this episode without remembering last season and how Clara's exit from the show has been dragged out far longer than it really should have been. Clara's death in Last Christmas was actually amazingly poignant, and had that not had a "oh it's okay she's fine" tacked onto the end of it, it would have served as a beautiful and appropriate sendoff for the character. This episode is by no means bad, but the final result it not something which moves you or makes you question anything (besides a few seconds here or there of light commentary on refugees), but which unfortunately feels a little like a story utility. Get the right people into the right place at the right time, and make sure that The Doctor is pissed off for the finale. And despite what I've said about Clara many times here on this blog, I love Jenna Coleman to bits, and I had hoped that she would have received a better farewell.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor is stuck somewhere weird and wonderful in Heaven Sent.

P.S: I hadn't realised quite how much I'm going to miss having Jenna Coleman on the show. And how much I'm dreading having to see River Song at Christmas.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.19: Rise

Now... kiss
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Nineteen - Rise
Written 4/10/15

This is not a bad episode. The distinction between a good and bad episode of Voyager goes thusly: A good episode makes me cheer in the middle of the story, and a bad episode makes me cheer at the end. Rise did not make me cheer, or feel much else for that matter - an episode squarely in the middle. It had some okay character work, but the dynamic isn't anything we haven't seen before. The plot was kind of interesting, but the twist was predictable. This is as close that I've seen Voyager come to Doctor Who's Base-Under-Siege format - although I may just be thinking that because I'm going through Cybermen Month and my brain is somewhat saturated.
     Voyager is helping an alien species to destroy asteroids that have been impacting their planet, killing thousands. A respected astrophysicist Dr. Vatm goes missing on the surface, and so Voyager sends shuttles down to the planet to go look for him, as he has information about the asteroids. Tuvok ends up being assigned Neelix, who wants to learn more about away missions, and they crash-land on the planet, conveniently not far away from where Vatm happened to be. Together they discover a Tether lift, a shuttle designed to lift people to a low-orbit space-station along a giant space-rope, which Neelix claims to have expertise in piloting. Despite revealing later that he's only seen models, he proves to be the only one capable of using it. Vatm is murdered, and it's soon revealed that the alien ambassador sent with the party, Sklar, was a traitor for another species who wished to conquer that planet for their own.
     The episode was another outing for Voyager's go-to Odd Couple dynamic, Tuvok and Neelix, although for some reason their interactions felt incredibly muted. In the past, Neelix was an unending source of constant irritation, and Tuvok's bouncing off of him was actually quite amusing as well as cathartic, especially in Meld. Here, though, Neelix has calmed down a little and speaks to Tuvok as a respected superior, merely suggesting he find better ways of motivating and understanding people rather than trying to bludgeon him with overbearing silliness. I'm not sure whether this worked in the episode's favour or not - I was surprised to find that I actually really liked Neelix in this episode, and got a little pissed off at Tuvok for a few of his more condescending put-downs. I'd think this was decent character development if I hadn't watched the rest of the series.
Neelix bullshits his way into a position of power again, but
at least this time he's actually quite competant. 
     I think the fact that the dynamic was taken into such a... pleasant direction meant that it lost a little bit of the spark that made it work in the first place, and when you bundle that in with a political plot about a group of people we've only just met there's not a lot to latch on to. Of course the trusted advisor is going to be the traitor, of course the asteroids are arriving deliberately. (That one just seems borrowed from Frontios.) We know absolutely nothing about the Nezu society that Voyager is helping beyond the patterns of bumps on their forehead, other than the fact they're a people and some of them are dying and it's all very sad. Had we been given some insight into who they are, we might have felt something at the fact that they were being attacked, but that plot never really came into its own.
     As I say in my introduction, I can't bring myself to call this a bad Voyager episode - there's nothing particularly wrong with the execution, and it does one or two things which are fairly interesting. There are the sci-fi ideas there that I'm always craving, and there was character development. But it felt so self-contained and irrelevant, the story so predictable in its twists and turns, that at the end of the episode you're left wondering how the previous 42 minutes passed you by. Despite it's title, this episode really failed to rise to expectations.
     I'll get my coat.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: Harry Kim is secretly a member of an alien species, who wish nothing but to whisk him away and mate with him, forever. Jammy git. He's the Favorite Son.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.9: Sleep No More

Part of the culture that surrounds Doctor Who is its perception as a "scary" show. Little kids, hiding behind the sofa, peeking between their fingers at the screen, too scared to keep watching but too enraptured to just leave. This occurs whether an episode is designed to be part of the horror genre or not - a lot of things are more scary to a child than they are to the writers. This makes it surprising when the show actually attempts to head into a straight-up Horror direction - it takes extra effort to make a story which will be scary for the adults, but easy enough to understand for the kids. Sleep No More was a brave attempt at subverting Doctor Who convention and wandering bravely into this new direction. It fails spectacularly.
Wait, these guys were in this episode? Could have fooled me.
       Initially the episode is presented as the last will of a scientist about to be destroyed, a staff member aboard a satellite surrounding the planet Neptune who is the inventor of the Morpheus device, a series of chambers which allow a user to go up to a month with only five minutes' worth of sleep. The Doctor and Clara arrive on the station a while after it has been evacuated, meeting a team of characters who have arrived to investigate why they went silent. The episode presents most of the scenes as being from some people's point of view, with the excuse first being that the rescue team are wearing camera helmets and later that the Morpheus System has latched onto their optical signal. Soon, the team is menaced by creatures made of Sand, the "Sandmen", who The Doctor claims are the mutated collections of grit that accumulate in the corner of the eye after sleep. It's soon revealed that the whole thing is a sham, that the scientist has been dead for a while, and, in the episode's final moments, that the entire episode is a propaganda video which spreads the sandman-creating signal to whomever watches.
      The found-footage aspect of the episode didn't have to end up being as gimmicky and weird as it ended up being. Sometimes when directors try tricks with hand-held cameras the results are shaky and disorienting, and that was very much in full effect here, to the episode's detriment. Instead of being tense and scared about what the hell's going on, the viewer spends to much time working out what they're actually looking at. To the episode's credit, it did try to counteract a lot of the negative aspects of the genre - the standard "how the hell is everything being filmed" question the genre usually pulls up is turned into a nifty part of the overall plot, but it still doesn't make up for the fact that this was not the best execution of that concept.
      This episode's cast boasted two important guest stars - Reese Shearsmith as narrator/villain Dr. Rassmussen, and Bethany Black as "474". Shearsmith is forced to carry the episode, and he works well with Gattis' gothic horror roots, having worked with him on similar stuff back in their League of Gentlemen days. Rassmussen is a twist on the classic Frankensteinian archetype, his actual form having been destroyed by his own creations and now impersonating him for the video. Shearsmith was born to play these roles and he is one of the episode's few saving graces, especially in his chilling end-of-episode speech. On the other hand we have Bethany Black, Doctor Who's first ever trans actress (!), whose appearance in the episode was hyped up prior to broadcast. Imagine my disappointment when she was made to play a half-human slave soldier of intermediate gender, whose character barely even has a name and dies in a pointless sacrifice half-way through the episode, barely mentioned again. Why even hype up the appearance if all you're going to do is waste a promising guest star?
Shearsmith is just good enough to justify this trainwreck.
     The rest of the episode ended up being forgettable. The cast of the base-under-siege, despite receiving lengthy introduction sequences at the beginning, had so little focus time before their inevitable deaths that you didn't really care about them. The one character who survived the ordeal, Nagata, had no personality traits beyond a really forced Geordie accent. It was nice having a cast mainly composed of British-Asian actors, but as with Black it seems like a bit of a waste if those characters are going to be ignored in favour of developing the three important white people. It was this, combined with the unbelievable nature of the premise (Living eye-dust? This from the guy who criticised "farting aliens" ten years ago), that made this episode hard to watch even ignoring the direction.
     To some this episode's gimmick sold it, and that's all right. But given the development of this season, this single-part experiment felt very out of place. Why organise your scary episode for the week after Halloween? Regardless of that, for me this step into the avant-garde was a step in the wrong direction. We want character development and interesting sci-fi ideas, not empty scares and "clever" plot twists - this was exactly the issue that caused Moffat to go into meltdown four years ago. (Writing that just made me remember how long he's been here :/) Sleep No More, when it wasn't being insulting or weird or disorienting, was just a hell of a lot less interesting than it thought it was, and that was its main downfall.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Harry Potter and the Return of the Guest Stars! It's Face The Raven.

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Tomb of the Cybermen (Revisited)

See here for my previous look at this story.

Despite the phallic design, the Cyber Controller adds an
interesting face to the Cybermen.
Doctor Who - Season Five, Story One - The Tomb of the Cybermen
Written between 27th and 28th September 2015

A question often arises when discussing The Tomb of the Cybermen - what makes this story so special? There are some who believe that the story's recovery in 1991 in its entirety was the miraculous reappearance of a bona fide classic, while others say that its reappearance is the only reason why people focus on it, and it's no different to any other Cyberman story from this era. There are elements of truth in both camps, as is often the case, and the reality is somewhere in the middle. It's true that Tomb has a great deal of similarities to the other Base-Under-Siege staples, but it also has a number of moments which raise it to another level.
Kit Pedler's last story had a black astronaut, so this comes
a little out of left-field.
     The Doctor has just picked up Victoria Waterfield, a now orphaned child of a Victorian scientist who fought against the Daleks. The Doctor and Jamie take her on her first trip, and end up landing on the planet Telos, where an expedition is attempting to excavate and find the legendary Tombs of the Cybermen, who at this point in history have been missing for several hundred years. The expedition is backed by the suspicious Klieg, his assistant Kaftan and her hulking slave Toberman. The Doctor is cautious about exploring the Tombs, but eventually leads the group the sleeping Cybermen. Klieg awakens them, revealing that he wishes to use them to rule the Earth. However, the newly awakened Cyber-Controller soon sets about the agenda of restarting Cyber-conversion. Klieg is defeated, and despite the efforts of the Cybermen and their adorable rodent-like servants the Cybermats, Toberman sacrifices himself to shut them away once more,
     The Cybermen here retain their design from The Moonbase, with a few extra additions made to their general lore. The Cybermen's use of refrigeration devices and their second home on Telos went on to become a key part of their mythology, as was the existence of the Cybermats (retired in Revenge and brought back in Closing Time), cute little creatures apparently capable of killing. Their threat here feels a lot more tangible than in the Moonbase, as they're present as a great evil locked away than as an outside invader. The harsh, cold architecture of the Tomb, coupled with the death traps and puzzles, do a lot to beef up the Cyber threat, and their desire to convert people is specifically pushed and discussed as the danger behind them. (Even if we won't see the Conversion process until the 1980s.)
     Most episode guides classify this as a Base-Under-Siege story, and it's not hard to see why. The character archetypes of the tough leader, the voice-of-reason scientist and the traitor are all there, as is the claustrophobia that comes with fighting the Cybermen in such a small, inescapable space. However, I think that there is a major difference - whose base is under siege, here? Usually the Base-Under-Siege story features a group of humans minding their own business before being attacked, and yet this time these explorers have sought the Cybermen out to their base. The Control Rooms of the Snowcap and The Moonbase were fairly mix and match, but the central vestibule in this serial is cramped and metallic and more innately inhospitable than simply bland.
There are some sweet moments with Victoria, and her
screaming isn't grating... yet.
     Of course this is the Sixties, so I have to discuss some of the less favourable aspects of the serial. All of the human villain characters have thick accents and darker skin, even though they are (with the exception of Toberman) played by white actors. Klieg and Kaftan are not exactly trustworthy in their initial appearance, but the episode builds around their villainous nature by having The Doctor be suspicious of them. Toberman was originally meant to be mute and deaf, with his hearing aid being a nod to the Cybermen's origins, but this was left out and so the only black character in the serial is portrayed as a noble, if terrifying, savage. Elsewhere, and both female characters are actually banned by the male exhibition leaders from even entering deep into the Tombs, and there are several similar comments made throughout. Victoria at least fights against a few of these jabs, and her characteristic screaming is actually used as a clever diversion, but it's still jarring to see this in a story supposedly set hundreds of years in our future.
     So, to answer my original question - what makes Tomb so memorable? It's certainly not some narrative masterpiece, and it's not very progressive with its characters, most of whom are either vaguely racist or are taken from previous Base-Under-Siege stories. But the story's setting, mythology, and expert sense of tension helps to sell a setup which without that would be rather menial. It is true that a lot of the focus on this story comes from its status as one of the seven complete Second Doctor stories, and one whose appearance seemed to arrive most miraculously, but that's almost incidental when you actually compare this episode to the stories that came before and after in this era. It doesn't just stand out, it shines. And that's why it's so cherished.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: A serial which now exists as 1/3rd actual episode and 2/3rds static images and dodgy CGI from 2010. It's The Wheel In Space.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.18: Darkling

Wait, does Dark!Doctor have more hair?
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Eighteen - Darkling
Written 30/9/15

Okay, okay, okay. This review was going to go a very different way. I had a whole bit about how this story was the beginning of the "Terrible Trilogy" of Season Three stories between the okay Unity and the amazing Before And After, and then I'd pick it apart for how obviously terrible it is. I do have a problem with this episode, and that's the simple fact that it is not the episode it advertises itself as being, going from a plot which is important to the continuity of the show and derailing it with another plot which, while interesting and very well executed, really should just have been done some other week.
     The episode's initial thrust is about Kes, following on from her separation from Neelix in Darkling. She has become enamoured with a member of a nomad species named Zahir, and is reconsidering her life on Voyager in favour of pursing the life of adventure and travel which originally inspired her to leave Ocampa. The Doctor, simultaneously, interferes with his own program by incorporating the personalities of various historical figures, intending on picking and choosing the best traits to improve himself. A byproduct of this is his transformation into a "Mr. Hyde" version of himself formed from the personalities' negative qualities. This new Doctor is murderous, jealous and possessive, and not only assaults Zahir but kidnaps Kes, fighting to control The Doctor's "body" for as long as possible.
     Kes's arc on the show is one that so rarely gets its deserved development. It's about Kes finding her way in life, and taking control of her own agency. The beginning and the end of her story work really well (let's not discuss Fury) but the steps along the way often had Kes' story sidelined for the exploits of other characters... usually guys. Here, we see a Kes free of Neelix, exploiting her newfound sexual freedom and attempting to live as a free adult. That story is cut short by The Doctor becoming so jealous and protective (though admittedly through technobabble and not by choice) of her that this chance is cut short. At the end of the episode Zahir just disappears like the disposable, lazy love interest he is, and any sense of Kes' development is thrown out with the bathwater when she decides that "she best stay here."
Three huge assholes in a line. I knew Neelix was a Gandhi fan.
     However, as I said, The Doctor's plot is not even that unpleasant in isolation. The Jekyll and Hyde story is of course a well-worn one, but Picardo has the acting chops to make his "Dark!Doctor" distinct from the original in an entertaining and interesting way. Unlike the regular Doctor, who is programmed to believe in the Hippocratic Oath, Dark!Doctor has absorbed the hypersexual traits of Lord Byron and the discriminatory shrewdness of Gandhi, turning him into a ruthless, lecherous deviant whose main philosophy rejects the notion that people are innately good and/or worthy. Ignoring for now the involvement of Byron and Gandhi, I think it's interesting to see the black-and-whiteness of the Doctor's darker persona have some justification behind it. A computer program is more likely to deal in absolutes, which explains why the Dark!Doctor is so ardent in his misanthropy.
     The Doctor's Jekyll and Hyde story is clearly one that Picardo could handle, but it didn't need to be here. Instead of Zahir being an empty character who appears only for about five minutes on screen and declares his love for Kes twice in that time, we could have spent longer developing their relationship, watching Kes become embroiled in Zahir's attractive outsider persona, before being involved in a misadventure with him which would then remind her of how she felt the same thing about Neelix, making her realise that she still had some growing up to do. That would have been an amazing character piece for Kes, and it's so frustrating seeing her sidelined when I know that she's not going to be here next season.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: A Neelix/Tuvok bonding episode. Because there aren't enough of those. Why not make reference to a film I haven't seen and Rise?

P.S. Whose idea was it to give Kes some of Seven of Nine's catsuits?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Moonbase (Revisited)

See here for my previous look at this story. Although, tbh, I'm not sure I'd actually watched the serial when I wrote that. I literally don't understand where I was coming from.

The Moonbase's DVD replaces the missing episodes with
animation, like last week.
Doctor Who - Season Four, Story Six - The Moonbase
Written between 21st and 23rd September 2015

It is not surprising that a show spanning 26 years of continuous programming through three distinct decades managed to end up following certain archetypes when it came to writing stories. What is surprising about the Second and Third Doctor's era is how often the same one comes up. Yes, I am indeed talking about "Base-Under-Siege", a plot template with the same circumstances and character archetypes which defines many of the stories across Doctor Who - but especially in the Second Doctor's era. Troughton didn't, of course, originate this - The Tenth Planet from last week was one of these stories. But it's more important here because last week, the whole world was being invaded, while this week we're focusing on a small tiny base. On the Moon.
     While attempting to land on Mars, something drags the TARDIS off-course and they end up on Earth's moon in the year 2070. There they enter the Moonbase, staffed by a small scientific team in charge of the Gravitron, a device used in the future to control the Earth's weather. The Doctor and his three companions (Ben and Polly from last week, and Two's favourite companion, Jamie McCrimmon) discover that the base has been inundated with an epidemic, causing staff members to become comatose with black veins. The director, Hobson, is immediately suspicious of The Doctor and his friends - especially when people start going missing. As we see, this is down to the Cybermen, something which The Doctor immediately suspects. Soon the base is being sieged by an Army of Cybermen, intent on using the Gravitron to kill everyone on Earth. Using the help of the remaining crew, The Doctor manages to direct the Gravitron towards the Cybermen and their ships, expelling them from the moon, as Polly and Ben despatch the remaining few with a solvent cocktail.
     This is the fourth story of Troughton's era, but, thanks to the missing episodes, it contains only his third and fourth surviving episodes. Half of The Moonbase is missing and has been for years - this is another DVD release (brought out in 2014) where the remaining episodes have been animated. I really like this selection of stories because it shows both sides of the problem - next week's Tomb of the Cybermen was recovered in its entirety and didn't live up to expectations, but The Wheel In Space the week after contains only two of its six episodes. When I first watched The Moonbase and reviewed it (as can be read in the link at the top of this article) those animations hadn't been done, and I distinctly didn't remember the first episode being gone. I must have started on the second episode, not had a clue what was going on, and judged it from there.
These Cybermen are much more into subterfuge.
     So, what is "Base-Under-Siege"? The Doctor and companions enter a remote, claustrophobic base. It's being run by a small (emphasis on small) team of people who usually follow a set of archetypes. Among others, there's the suspicious and hardline leader, the medic who speaks as the voice of reason, and the plucky one with lots of technical knowledge. People start being picked off when the alien enemies slowly start to pick people off, making their way closer and closer to our heroes and their defences. What story am I describing? It's definitely a description of The Moonbase. It's also a description of dozens of other Doctor Who stories. Dalek is Base Under Siege. Flatline is Base Under Siege. It is ubiquitous. The problem with Troughton's Base Under Siege stories being a lack of variety caused by repetition of the plot and not a lot of budget to separate them from one another.
     The turnaround between the broadcast of The Tenth Planet and filming for The Moonbase was apparently only two weeks. Despite this hasty schedule, the new Cyberman design is both simpler and slightly more effective, and the fact that a hefty accordion has been replaced by a boiler suit with handles means that they were able to create a fairly convincing "army". As I put rather nicely in my previous review, the new design is a trade-off which would go on to define the design of the Cybermen in all later incarnations. The robotic boiler suit men have much less of the humanoid design of their predecessor - their hands are three-fingered pincers, their voices now a harsh electronic buzz that requires subtitles to understand. Although The Doctor does mention their history, it's not immediately obvious that these things are human beings - but when that history is brought up, their inhumanity becomes all the more terrifying.
     Of course, like last week, and like some time to come, there is an air of pronounced sexism which often gets brought up around The Moonbase. Polly is given quite a nice scene where she works out a way of discovering a way to defeat these Cybermen - using a combination of solvents to erode the plastic coating on the Cybermen's chest apparatus. But apart from that, she doesn't get much else to do but scream at the Cybermen, be disbelieved about having seen the Cybermen, and be told by three different people to make coffee. Often there's a counter-argument that The Doctor asking her to make coffee is an attempt to diffuse the tense situation that had arisen amongst the staff of the base. But one thing that is never brought up is the fact that at one point Ben literally says, "Not you Polly, this is Men's work." I suppose it's historical accuracy, however unpleasant it may be.
Two's characterisation takes it's most well-known form here.
     The Moonbase ends up being lot more interesting than I gave it credit for. It doesn't have to spend as much time explaining itself as its predecessor did, and so it gets to add a bit more tension and suspense. The story was meant to capitalise on the new Cybermen, and it did that, while at the same time finally calming Troughton's more clownish tendencies and allowing the more serious side of his character to come out. Despite how we may be able to categorise and scrutinise it, and despite some of the more distasteful idiosyncrasies of its era, The Moonbase is a very enjoyable story for fans of this era.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Boy Wonder of the Troughton era, which just happens to be a Cyberman story. Join with us as we defrost The Tomb of the Cybermen.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.8: The Zygon Inversion

Peter Capaldi delivers the best performance so far in his era.
For some reason, this week's episode felt a lot shorter than the first half, even though I know that that can't be the case. Perhaps it was to do with the pacing or simple nature of the story - resolutions always run faster than build-ups. But there was something else working in this story's favour - it more or less fixed a lot of last week's problems. Curiously enough this week Peter Harness' writing credit was joined by one from Moffat, and opposed to being a negative influence he seemed to balance out some of Harness' harsher methods. Whereas last week seemed hell-bent on causing paranoia and superstition, this episode ran a hard-line message about pacifism that really hit home.
     Clara, stuck inside a Zygon pod, finds herself able to influence her doppelganger's behaviour, and uses this to have her spare The Doctor and communicate with him without her knowing. Kate, who wasn't killed last week, rendezvous with The Doctor as he and Clara guide her doppelganger to The Black Archives, the room where the original ceasefire was built and the "Osgood Boxes" supposedly can mean oblivion or revolution for both Zygons and Humans. Everyone gathered in one room, The Doctor tries to convince Bonnie that war is pointless, and does so using a brilliant speech. When Bonnie finally changes her mind, The Doctor reveals that the boxes were both empty - he removes this information from Kate's mind, but keeps it in the mind of Bonnie, who calls off the revolutionaries and becomes one of the Osgoods.
     The episode focused a lot on pacifism and the victims of war, rather than the previous episode's focus on the paranoia of foreign terrorism. In the first half of the episode we see the painful fate of one of the integrated Zygons, and it strikes all of the crap about "don't bomb them, you'll radicalise the rest" from the first half into painful ignorance. That was then followed by the amazing climax of the episode - I have not heard a speech that good in Doctor Who since The Eleventh Hour, honest truth. Capaldi is a fucking fine actor, and he gave so much to this scene - a genuine sadness, anger, frustration, but also a glimmer of hope that things might become good. He feels genuinely caught up in the moment, and that carried through to me - I empathised with The Doctor more in those few seconds than I have for this entire season thus far. This is how these speeches should be delivered, and how this message should have been from the beginning.
Zygon!Clara (Bonnie) deliberates over the Blue Osgood Box
      Of course, this episode's single-mindedness to race for the resolution did mean that I don't have much else to talk about. Osgood carried on her role from last week as The Doctor's temporary, surrogate companion, eventually becoming a nice personification of a sci-fi idea. After clowning around last week, this week gave Jenna Coleman a lot more beefy stuff, both as Clara and Bonnie, both in and out of her mind. There were moments where Bonnie felt a little cheesy, but we can maybe put that down to her being a big tentacled monster living as a human being. Thinking on it, it's a little too convenient that convincing the terrorist leader to stand down will stop the entire movement - we know from real life that eliminating the head means nothing to radical organisations - but it worked for the story and felt very satisfying.
       I think this is possibly the first time in a while that I can say Moffat saved an episode, but here we are. Doctor Who keeps pulling this nonsense with me where every time I despair about the direction it takes, there's a sudden left-turn and it does something I really enjoy. The Zygon Inversion, true to its name, felt like a reversal of last week. And that was 100% for the better. Now I just wish this whole silly season works its way out right.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The first single-parter of the season, Sleep No More.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review: Voyager 3.17: Unity

Reference to the previous bald Star Trek girl?
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Seventeen - Unity
Written between 28th and 29th September 2015

How appropriate that as I begin Cybermen Month on Nostalgia Filter, we encounter Unity, the first Voyager episode to star the Borg, Star Trek's direct equivalent. It's funny now to see look here and see that Unity was considered such a highlight episode, a rare guest appearance. While this episode may have only been added to the series in order to tie the show in with the release of Star Trek: First Contact, the movie which renovated the Borg, Voyager would go on to use the pre-existing lore around them to turn them into their most important recurring villains - and would even have one as a main character. It's no exaggeration to say that the Borg were Voyager's saving grace as a show.
   Chakotay is on a shuttle with Obviously-Dead-Ensign when they crash onto an island with a Federation hail. Chakotay awakens to find himself in a community inhabited by lots of species from back in the Alpha Quadrant - the result of a Borg Ship being separated from its collective, its inhabitants regaining their old lives. In particular, Chakotay becomes friends with a human woman, Riley. Voyager is trotting along until it encounters a burnt-out Borg Cube. Riley says that they're creating a shared society, and asks Chakotay to ask Voyager for weapons and supplies should they arrive. Chakotay has a brain injury from being attacked upon the crash, and so the Borg-ettes implant him with a temporary brain device which allows him to become part of their collective, somehow healing his wounds. When he returns to Voyager and Janeway refuses to help them in their desire to reestablish a collective, they use the residual trace connection to force Chakotay to reactivate the Cube, allowing them to spread their collective across the planet and achieve peace and harmony.
     Despite last week leaving that big ol' cliffhanger that this was the Borg episode, and the presence of the Borg being a massive part of the publicity around this episode, the episode tries its best to keep their presence here a secret. When Riley explains the reason why she's in the Delta Quadrant in the first place, she's obtuse in her description of the Borg, simply calling them "aliens". This has a story purpose, of course, but it feels a little lacklustre to hold this information hostage - I would have preferred it had the episode had Voyager encounter the cube in the cold open, allowing the scenes with Chakotay's shuttle to feel more sinister with the knowledge that the Borg are here, just not in plain sight.
Because we had to have at least one active Drone for it to be
considered a Borg episode.
     While there were hints towards the Borg's future in the series (the "greater enemy" which would become Species 8472), there's really nothing here that hasn't either been done better before in Trek or would be done better later. Meditation of whether it's possible to return from life as a Borg was already thoroughly examined as a philosophy in TNG's I, Borg, while the emotional side would be embodied in the character of Seven of Nine. It would have been a decent character piece for Chakotay if it hadn't felt more like a Love-Interest-Of-The-Week plot which didn't really characterise him as anything other than "Starfleet guy." Considering that Chakotay is supposed to have become a member of the rebel Maquis (that plotline's relevance being shown by how seldom I write that word), I think it's a real shame that it never came up here - and that this episode wasn't a better showing for one of Trek's biggest villains.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The "unholy trio" of bad Season Three episodes begins with Darkling.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Tenth Planet

One with Ben at the South Pole.
Doctor Who - Season 4, Story Two - The Tenth Planet
Written between 19th and 20th September 2015

Under William Hartnell's tenure as The Doctor, the show had not only begun, but had also become a national phenomenon. Other shows take a while to get embedded into the public imagination, but under Hartnell the show had risen phenomenally, following the 60s trend of Dalekmania. Behind the scenes, however, several accounts show a man often harder to work with. In 1966, near the start of the show's fourth season, Hartnell's failing health and friction with newer members of the production team led to the suggestion of his leaving the show. In order to do this, writer Gerry Davis created the concept of regeneration, and he incorporated it into a story he'd been writing with his friend Kit Pedler, about a race of cybernetic creatures known as Cybermen...
     The Doctor and his two companions Ben and Polly (both from 1960s England) arrive in the South Pole. There they wander into an underground base led by General Cutler. The base is a scientific station monitoring a rocket launch towards Mars, and the three are immediately treated with suspicion. The rocket starts heading off course, and is ultimately lost, as a planet seems to come within range of Earth - a planet The Doctor identifies as Mondas. Soon the base is invaded by tall, bumbling creatures called Cybermen, who explain their origins as a race of human-like beings forced to replace parts of their bodies with technology. They want to invade Earth, robbing it of enough energy to keep Mondas alive and to kidnap to human population in order to convert them into more of their own kind. Before they can truly get their plan under way, however, Mondas absorbs too much energy, and is destroyed. As the Cybermen lie in ruins, The Doctor, feeling a bit tired, makes his way back to The Tardis and collapses, regenerating into The Second Doctor.
This amazing shot wouldn't be half as effective
if the costume designer had remembered the gloves.
     The previous, premier story of this season, The Savages, was filmed as part of the previous production block, meaning that for Hartnell, he was essentially coming back to the show solely to film his exit. It's been said that this quite frustrated him, even if his health kept continuing to disrupt the show even through the production of this story. At one point Hartnell missed a week of filming due to complications from his arteriosclerosis, and he was hence written out of his own penultimate episode, a lot of his lines being given to the serial's other characters. This means that the third episode, lacking both Doctor and Cybermen, is by far the serial's most boring and tedious, but that actually contributes to the serial's success, as the Doctor's collapse and tired recover foreshadows the (for the time) incredibly surprising regeneration at the end.
     The execution of the original concept of the Cybermen is... well, it's hard to say with a perspective so drowned in hindsight. The explanation of the Cybermen is fantastic - you can really imagine that these beings were once men and women. As with Hartnell's absence in episode 3, blunders sometimes help - the Cybermen's silver gloves weren't ready in time, and so they had to go on without them. The resulting Cybermen, gripping their foes with human hands, look far more body-horror for it. They also, for some people, contribute to the opposite effect. I remember in particular my sister watching The Tenth Planet with me and laughing her head off at them, with their beady eyes and ridiculous sing-song voices. For me, of course, it all works and is a horrifying view into a potential future of the human race. The voices are still funny though.
     Now, for the stuff related to this story's release today. As I mentioned in the prologue to this month, many of the episodes from the black and white days are missing. This provides several interesting and unique challenges in watching the old series, with fans resorting to the use of "recons", facsimiles of the show created using stills, stage directions and the original audio. Luckily, for four stories, their DVD releases have been accompanied by complete animated versions of the missing episodes, using a unique animation style which attempts to as closely as possible match the original shots. Here, the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet is animated, the entire episode (bar the regeneration, thanks to Blue Peter) having been lost. I actually really like it - after the dullness of the third episode, the animated episode has a brilliant element of style and menace which does the Cybermen (and Hartnell) due justice.
Even in animation, Hartnell's final lines carry a great sense of
poignancy.
     There's a brilliant sense of decline in this story which may or may not have been intentional. The Cybermen represent, here, a humanity driven by a desire for survival to a dark, technological fate. They are shadows of their former self. This is a black mirror for the idea of Regeneration in the first place. The Doctor's main aim this episode, interestingly, is simply to wait and allow things to work themselves out, as he knows that the Cybermen will fail. The same was known by Hartnell of himself, and so it stands out as a very definite, very final story for the Doctor who allowed the show to come into being. And I salute him.

Thanks

NEXT WEEK: The Second Doctor is in a base which is under siege. You could say that it's a kind of... "base-under-siege" story. It's The Moonbase.