purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos is an odd episode. It manages to be both very like most of series 11 and something of an odd-one-out. Similarly it is both like a traditional NuWho finale and like a traditional classic Who season ender. The whole is not quite the sum of its parts.

As with much of series 11, most of the emotional heft of the episode is being carried by Ryan and Graham, particularly Graham's desire to kill Tim Shaw. As viewers, we pretty much know he's not going to do it - or at least I never for a moment considered there to be any possibility he would go through with it. It's a nice end to that emotional journey but doesn't really have quite the space it needs and it ends in a kind of bathetic humour, that ultimately doesn't work as well as some of the Graham and Ryan stuff elsewhere in the season. Meanwhile, since Graham and Ryan are dealing with Tim Shaw the Doctor is left somewhat on the sidelines not dealing directly with the major antagonist. We add to the flesh-eating water in The Ghost Monument, and the Doctor's limp from The Tsuranga Conundrum a reality bending psychic field around the planet which seems like it should have an obvious plot payoff and doesn't. In this case it seems mostly to be there so that Paltraki can only explain what is going on in fits and starts rather than providing an info-dump all at once. It also seems possible the psychic field is supposed to explain the behaviour of the Ux, but in lots of ways that explanation raises more questions than it answers, though the Ux are, in general under-explained and rather poorly motivated.

On the other hand, unlike much of series 11, there was a genuine bad guy. The Doctor got to stand up to him. We began to have a more nuanced explanation to her "no guns" attitudes of earlier in the series and there was a bit more story to get our teeth into (no pun intended) than we have had with many of the other Chibnall episodes. Sadly Tim Shaw is not that compelling a villain and his final incarceration is unsatisfactory. Maybe, because we never believe Graham will kill Tim Shaw, we are never really asked to confront the question of whether killing Tim Shaw (who has wiped out several planets since the Doctor last failed to kill him) might actually be a reasonable course of action. The Thirteenth Doctor's tendency to ignore the bigger problems and the bigger villains, to dodge complex moral questions by simply walking away, continues and it remains unclear if this is meant to be a virtue or a flaw or is just some weird coincidence arising from the way these stories have been constructed. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos not only has no conclusions about this it barely seems to recognise it as a point of discussion despite it being implicit in the return of Tim Shaw.

In classic Who the last story in a season was nearly always just another story. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos has much of this feel to it. Although we have the return of Tim Shaw, it's not something that has been building all season and, though the stakes are high, they are not presented in a particularly epic fashion.

It's a perfectly fine story, probably in the bottom half of those this series, but not terrible. I'm not fond of the overblown NuWho finale and I like this better than some of those, but it is a shame the series couldn't end on a stronger note.

Although, obviously, possibly it did, depending upon one's views about Resolution.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
It Takes you Away starts well, looking as good as series 11 often does, and with a set-up that's both novel and atmospheric. Then it all sort of falls apart a bit.

I don't object to the sudden turn to the left, while it would have been fun to have a monster story set in the Norwegian forest, the idea that actually its not that at all, and the reveal that the monster is entirely made up by Erik is both clever and, in an entirely different way, equally horrific.

I didn't particularly mind the frog on the chair, that's a gloriously bonkers Doctor Who kind of concept. I did think the frog on the chair was rather poorly done though. It looked like a fake frog on a chair which may, just, have been deliberate but I suspect was lack of budget. However this was one of those moments when I think the dialogue let the show down. I could not tell whether the Doctor was genuine about wanting to stay with the frog (the performance suggested she was, but she didn't really seem to have been there long enough for that to be earned) or whether the Doctor was bluffing the whole time and looking for a way out (which doesn't really seem in character for the thirteenth Doctor). In the end I just couldn't quite believe in that scene and undermined the whole frog on a chair concept.

I did think the antizone was kind of pointless. The flesh-eating moths seemed, in the end, to be a lot less dangerous than their publicity suggested. Certainly Ryan and Hanne didn't seem to have much trouble with them, and all the stuff about the Doctor needing a thread to find her way conveniently went away at the end. It was obviously there to inject some actual peril into the episode but it felt like the modern series equivalent of running down corridors.

All the stuff with Graham was great (arguably one of the problems with series 11 is that all the stuff with Graham is great) from his sandwich (the sandwich was the best bit, to be honest), to his interactions with "Grace", to Ryan finally calling him grandad (we all knew it was coming, but it was nice that the show got there). However almost everything else I could have quite happily lived without.

I know a lot of people liked the story, but frankly I thought it the weakest of series 11.
purplecat: The Third Doctor (Who:Three)
For some reason I'm constantly surprised by how grounded in reality a lot of the Pertwee era feels. There's obviously something about being embedded within an Earth organisation, but in some ways it's the details: travelling places by car, using locations to represent themselves. It happens in other eras as well of course, but there's something about the style of Pertwee stories that seeks to makes even its more outrageous ideas seem more everyday - at least some of the time (I'm not about to claim Carnival of Monsters feels grounded in reality).

In The Mind of Evil it is particularly the prison sequences (and the storming of the prison by the army) that convey this feeling, similar perhaps to the way I was struck by the high profile presence of the army in Claws of Axos. This may be because Doctor Who often treats even the presence of soldiers by populating the background of a scene with a couple of extras so it is a bit startling when you have lots of people on screen scaling walls with ropes and so on.

The rest of the story doesn't quite work. It's not that its disparate elements: murders at an international peace conference; a new technique for "curing" prisoners; and a nerve gas missile convoy don't fit together but some of the plot connections between them are rather thin and its easy to forget how you reached point B in the story from point A. It is also quite a convoluted plan on the Master's part, but then the Master likes over-convoluted plans so that is probably fair enough.

It's a very good story for Jo, who organises a prison recapture, knocks out the odd rioting prisoner and generally holds the fort at Stangmoor Prison, despite the presence of the Master, his henchfolk and an evil mind parasite. This shouldn't need saying, but it does.

All Pertwee stories are watchable, and nearly all of them are solid from a plot point of view. It's not my favourite era of Doctor Who and this isn't my favourite story from that era, but even so, I'd happily watch it again.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
In many ways, The Witchfinders was the most traditional of the Doctor Who stories in series 11. It had a beginning, a middle and, most importantly, an end. It had proper monsters and a proper villain who was proper defeated, albeit one who was not as interesting as the historical celebrity. I'm not surprised that lots of people really liked it. I thought it was a good strong story, but I preferred the other two historicals of the season. I suspect it was trying to tell a tale exploring misogyny, just as Rosa explored racism and The Demons of the Punjab explored religious intolerance. Its distance from the events allowed it a lot more freedom both to make stuff up, and to insert the Doctor and aliens more directly into the narrative, both of which gave it the feel of a much more traditional structure but, at the same time, rather watered down its messages.

Lots of people seem to have liked the moment where the Doctor complains that she would have been able to get on with things more quickly if she were male. I really disliked this bit. Part of the point of the Doctor is that 90% of the time he/she walks in and assumes authority just because, the other 10% of the time the story tends to revolve around the fact that no one in power will believe him/her. I wanted the first female Doctor to have this same ability just to walk into a room and 90% of the time just get away with bossing everyone around and the other 10% of the time I didn't want her ineffectiveness to be about her gender. I mean, yes, obviously 16th century England and all that, but Doctor Who has always been happy to hand-wave issues of the Tardis crew not obviously fitting in when not convenient to the plot and, again, I feel the thirteenth Doctor should be able to get away with this too. I suppose I don't want being a woman to be much of a thing from the point of view of the Doctor herself.

That aside, this was definitely one of the better stories of the season, again we get some stuff show-casing Yaz's skills and hinting at her police officer background of the kind we really needed more of earlier in the season to give her a more solid grounding as a character. The plot was solid. Alan Cummings was hugely watchable. Graham got to wear a hat.
purplecat: A Crocheted Afghan Square Blanket (General:Crochet)

Blue crochet blanket of many squares on a bed

2018 was the third year I participated in the Moogly Crochet-a-long (it releases the pattern for a crochet square every 2 weeks) and above is the finished result. It won't be staying on the bed because it hasn't yet been cold enough this winter to necessitate a blanket (or possibly fixing the broken window pane in the bedroom has made all the difference).
purplecat: Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (Who:Five)
I recall from dim and distant Oxford DocSoc days a review of Frontios which described it as an excellent story up to episode three where everything went downhill (literally) to the underground evil weevils. This has stayed in my mind since as my appraisal - nice setup, all goes wrong in episode three, but I actually think that is a little unfair.

It's a grim and militaristic tale, but not in the "unpleasantly violent and fixated on space mercenaries" manner of a lot of Saward Era stories. It sets itself in a military dictatorship, but one which is shown to collapse partway through the story and one in which the dictator is at least benevolent in intention. One wonders if writer, Christopher H. Bidmead and Eric Saward had some discussion in which Saward was pushing for soldiers and military uniforms, and Bidmead went with it but chose to colour in his world in a way which showed the limitations of a military dictatorship, even one that desired to be benevolent.

As the long ago review notes, the set up is tense and atmospheric and, for Doctor Who, we actually get a lot of world building showing us a colony on the point of collapse from bombardment by enemies unknown. As for going downhill underground to the evil weevils? Well there are some problems with the evil weevils. The costumes look great from the knees upwards, but are rather obviously skirts from the knees down (a problem suffered by a number of 1960s aliens but not really seen since) and the Tractators are definitely rather less interesting than the society above ground. I remember Bidmead complaining that budgetary shortcomings had also short-changed the depiction of Tractator technology which he had very much wanted to be constructed entirely from human "spare parts" but even what was shown here was enough to have Tame Layman comment that it was "really rather unpleasant". It's not as good as the rest of the story, but I don't think the evil weevils hugely let it down. It's a little too convenient that the solution turns out to be simply a matter of isolating the chief Tractator from the rest of them, but this will not be the last time 1980s Doctor Who decides to use this get out. However, even while we are getting a certain amount of running around underground tunnels being pursued by evil weevils, we are also seeing the collapse into anarchy of the regime on the surface, so the story doesn't really lose the atmosphere it has built up.

We watched An Adventure in Time and Space shortly after this and it was more than a little odd to see Jeff Rawle in both. In An Adventure in Time and Space, where he plays Mervyn Pinfield, you could argue he's very much playing a straight version of his George Dent character from Drop the Dead Donkey - mild-mannered, a little put-upon, wears cardigans. In Frontios he plays Plantagenet, the slightly useless son and heir of the colony's leader, Captain Revere. While Plantagenet is depicted as, well, slightly useless, the story is clearly reaching towards an idea of him as the dashing hero who comes into his own. Seeing him 30 years later in a cardigan is a bit of a shock.

The performances are generally excellent in keeping with most of the script and, even when faced with the Tractator costume, no one chooses to treat the story as a pantomime (except for, perhaps, some rather awkward dialogue in which Tegan has to pretend to be an android which fails to really be as funny as is necessary to justify its inclusion).

Frontios is an oddly over-looked story. It seems very much in keeping with the Saward era, but avoids many of its excesses. It is quite grim, but not relentlessly so, and not as an end in its own right. The result is tense, atmospheric and thoughtful... and also has evil weevils (but this is Doctor Who).


Jan. 12th, 2019 02:06 pm
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
This was another strong episode. The construction of the hunt for the villain, with its undermining of expectations was well done. The very on point parallels with Amazon also worked well. I'm not going to call it satire because I don't believe it was structured that way, but it isn't the first Doctor Who story to model its alien/future world on something existing in our world sufficiently closely that it can be treated as a critique and I doubt it will be the last. There was an actual villain, though not one who showed any real interest in chewing the scenery.

I had a lot of opinions about the whole depiction of Artificial Intelligence, specifically the system's decision to kill Kira in order to make a point to Charlie, but they would form a long essay on machine ethics and the likely legislation surrounding AIs. Suffice it to say on Thursday after the episode I pitched an article on the subject to The Conversation and actually got a response to the effect that they'd have published it if I'd thought of the idea on Monday. I won't bore everyone with it here. I think the AI behaviour works fine within the context of Doctor Who, but its highly unlikely it would work like that in the real world.

Lots has been written about the implicit politics of the episode. This is definitely a story I'd hold up as supporting my thesis that Chibnall (so by extension the Doctor Who he oversees) is interested in systems of oppression but recognises that the Doctor isn't really a suitable hero to tackle them. I think we see here something working towards the idea that you can change the system by engaging with it and influencing those with the power to enact change, and also the acknowledgment that change is show (despite the undertaking to employ more people* and to give the current workers a holiday, they only pay these people for half the time they are giving them off). All that said, on the assumption that that is the kind of discussion the episode is trying to have, I think the execution was a little clunky. Certainly many seem to have interpreted the story as ultimately in favour of Amazon Kerblam! and against people who agitate for better treatment of its workers. That's not my reading of it, but its a perfectly valid reading given what is on screen.

This is also the first time since The Woman who Fell to Earth that we see Yaz act in ways that are clearly influenced by her police background. I wish this kind of thing had been in the scripts from earlier in the series. It feels like too little, too late at this point. The juggernaut that is the relationship between Ryan and Graham has irretrievably sucked the oxygen out of the other characters and their interactions and episode 7 out of 10 is too late for them to gain any momentum.

I don't think Kerblam! is as good as either of the historical episodes that preceded it. It's probably better than any of the Chibnall scripted SF episodes though. It has a clearer idea of what its trying to do and a more equitable use of its characters and I think the series as a whole would have benefitted if it had been appeared earlier.

* The AI expert in me worries about how this would work economically, but I'm already overlooking the ethics and legal issues with AI in the story so lets overlook the economic issues as well.
purplecat: The Fourth Doctor (Who:Four)
I was looking forward to The Ribos Operation. I've seen it at least a couple of times and had a positive memory that it looked good, had pretty solid characterisation and a nice sense of humour. It isn't an especially showy Doctor Who episode but, in some ways is the better for it. It doesn't raise over-high expectations, nor does it try to deliver on special effects beyond its ability. I was also expecting Tame Layman to like it, its a decent fourth Doctor episode with, again, a good sense of humour and I thought he'd be all over Binro the Heretic and the trials of a scientist in a superstitious culture.

Tame Layman was mostly rather unmoved by it and his main comment, in episode four, was that it was a bit of a pantomime. Now we had just watched Demons of the Punjab and I think pretty much any Tom Baker episode would look a little pantomimic next to it, but this was the moment in which the Doctor, Romana and Garron all try to hide in an alcove by lying on top of each other so you could see his point. In fact, while fandom has tended to laud Garron and Unstoffe as a classic Holmesian double-act, there is a fair bit of the DNA of pantomime in their interactions, schemes and sleight of hand.

All that said, of all the episodes of Doctor Who to get labelled "pantomime", The Ribos Operation would not be the one that instantly sprang to my mind. Everything I remembered about it still holds true: it does look good (in part because the BBC Costume department, as I've noted before, was much better at costumes with a historical flavour than it was at envisioning futuristic clothing). The characterisation is a little broad brush perhaps but the characters do benefit from being distinct and memorable with (mostly) their own agendas. There is plenty of humour not just from the "Holmesian double act", but also between the Doctor and new companion Romana and the pair of them and Garron. But I can also see why this doesn't make top ten lists, its a little too straightforward, it doesn't quite embrace its atmosphere of a medieval ice planet and the humour is often a little too arch and pleased with itself... and in direct comparison with Demons of the Punjab it does look a bit like a pantomime.

Poor Ribos Operation, I fear that circumstances on this viewing were against you.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I saw this twice. Tame Layman missed it first time around but expressed an interest in viewing it when I said it had been good. We both thought it was the highlight of the season.

Personally I think Demons of the Punjab and Rosa were the stand out episodes of series 11. They both took Doctor Who to places it had never really been - shining lights on recent bits of history that are relevant and important to large numbers of British people but also often over-looked in school history. They looked stunning. The world's they presented had a genuine depth of detail missing from more futuristic episodes*. They managed to deal with big issues of human inhumanity without become overly didactic or overly simple. They had resolutions but steered clear of offering trite solutions. Where, for me, Demons of the Punjab wins out is that Rosa has deeply constrained by everything we know about Rosa Parks. The story the Doctor and her companions participated in had to be constructed around the edges of Rosa's own story. Demons of the Punjab in focusing on a family known only to us through the tales Yaz recalled being told by her grandmother had the freedom for the Doctor and friends to be more integral to events and the ending to be less pre-ordained - though it was pretty obvious from early on that things were not going to end well for Prem.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it would have been better without the aliens. In the end they are kind of superfluous to the story and seem to be there in part simply because the production team lacked the courage to go full on pure historical. On the other hand, the confusion they introduce into the story and the way they force involvement from the Doctor and interactions between the Tardis team and the family, helps drive the plot. Without them there is rather less to happen. Other incident would have to have been created. They also provided a natural way to bring in the themes of witness and remembrance which were obviously important given the story's air-date of Remembrance Sunday.

The Teenager agreed that it was good telly but was adamant that it was not Doctor Who. We muttered about William Hartnell to her but she took the line that what might have been Doctor Who forty years before she was born was entirely irrelevant to what counted as Doctor Who in 2018. I'm not sure she's right in its entirety, but I can see there is an argument that this is sufficiently different from the current status quo to feel like a different show altogether.

Where, in general, I've been rather `meh' about series 11. I am absolutely behind the re-introduction of the educational historical story. I wouldn't want an entire season of them, but I think they have proved they have a place in the Doctor Who mix and its a shame it has been so long without one.

* Yes, obviously, detail is difficult to do from scratch.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
The Tsuranga Conundrum turned out to be quite a divisive episode. It was presumably aiming to be light-hearted and a little cooky (in the way Doctor Who is normally light-hearted - so a light-heartedness that still involves people dying) and approached from that angle it at least succeeds in being rather less divisive than Love and Monsters.

Unlike Arachnids in the UK which I find I like less when looking back at it, I find I like The Tsuranga Conundrum more. It has more going on than The Ghost Monument, comes to a proper conclusion at a sensible pace, and the solution is even a little bit clever (albeit somewhat telegraphed in advance). The Pting is, in many ways, a genuinely original monster concept (managing to be both cute and very dangerous and never sacrificing the one in favour of the other). By this point in series 11, the lack of a good villain to conclusively defeat was beginning to grate with a large number of fans and the Pting is almost aggressively the opposite of that so one can see how it became a lightening rod for a certain strand of criticism, but taken out of that context unless you feel that Doctor Who monsters should always be serious in some sense, then there is nothing wrong with the Pting at all. I'd definitely take it over the Slitheen any day. While they felt like escapees from Children's TV, the Pting feels to me like a much more natural denizen of the Whoniverse. The story also features some decent, understated bits of world-building. I particularly like the "prayer" at the end and the way it emphasised that this future society has its own rituals which are sufficiently universal within the particular culture that the Doctor knows them as well, just as she can quote Shakespeare and could probably recite the Lord's Prayer if the situation so required.

That's not to say the story is without flaws. I didn't particularly care about either Eve Cicero or her brother. Her death was the most obvious resolution to that story strand and I wasn't moved by it. The pregnancy storyline was OK, fit in with the light-hearted and a little cooky vibe and allowed for some nice character stuff with Ryan and Graham, but was basically irrelevant to the rest of the plot. Like the flesh-eating water that turned out not to be Chekovian in The Ghost Monument, here the Doctor is injured and limping about all over the place and this turns out to have no bearing on anything whatsoever. The info-dump about the anti-matter engine, as with most of the attempts to do "science education" in the series, seems too info-dumpy and feels out of place.

All that said, this is much more its own thing than the other "sci-fi"-ish plots in series 11. All the elements may not have quite come together and its attempts at whimsey may be a little clumsy, but on the whole it was interesting and a little different and I find myself with considerable retroactive goodwill towards it. Someday I may even rewatch and see if the memory cheats.
purplecat: Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (Who:Five)
It's 1980s Who with "Time" in the title. This never bodes well!

Actually, to be fair, there are bits of Time Flight that are quite reasonable. Most of the stuff at Heathrow is actually passable and sufficiently novel in terms of location and style to be quite interesting. One suspects if the story had managed to maintain its air of some kind of airport based procedural story it would have been much better. Both the Concorde crew and Professor Hayter are surprisingly good characters who manage (mostly) to be both interesting and competent, and the idea of a race that has converted itself into some kind of mental gestalt but still has warring "good" and "bad" sides is sufficiently interesting to have potential for good Doctor Who.

To be honest, in lots of ways, Time Flight's biggest sin is that it rather obviously ran out of money halfway through. Pretty much everything on prehistoric Earth looks shoddy and the story lacks the necessary charm or energy to overcome the general cheapness. Obviously there is also the issue of the Master and his entirely pointless disguise, but the Master obviously just likes dressing up so why not? especially since there is always a chance the Doctor will turn up. Tame Layman was genuinely surprised by his appearance so on some kind of basic level it was doing its job. It also provides a rather nice opportunity for Hayter and Captain Stapley's determined rationalism to trump the Doctor's vague assumption of more complex psychic forces, as they investigate "Khalid"'s crystal ball to reveal the electronics beneath.

I honestly think that with one more pass of the script to tighten it up, and enough money to realise its locations, Time Flight would be a much better liked story.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
At the time of watching, I felt that Arachnids in the UK, while not in the same league as Rosa, was preserving a general upward trend in the quality of the stories in series 11. I now feel like I'd like to revist both it and The Woman who Fell to Earth since I'm not sure it would stand up terribly well back to back with the latter.

While Arachnids has better narrative drive, certainly than The Ghost Monument, like The Ghost Monument it just seems to stop at the end of its allotted 50 minutes. The situation is apparently contained and we can infer that something is done about the baby spiders in the panic room, but a little bit more would have been welcome. Allowing Chris Noth's Robertson to leave apparently scot free is another odd choice. While it could be argued this is a case of the Doctor choosing not to interfere with a more systemic problem, the man has clearly broken a number of laws (including waving a gun at a police officer - even if she hadn't identified herself as such) and, as many people have pointed out, would it really have hurt to have had a newspaper headline, or throwaway comment, that he was now being investigated by the authorities?

Where the series set up as a whole is reminiscent of the early Davison years, and its historical reminiscent of early Hartnell, Arachnids invokes late Pertwee with its giant spiders and environmentalist underpinnings. That said, it didn't feel much like a Pertwee story to me. Robertson wasn't a consistent enough antagonist and the spiders not really enough of a threat. As in The Ghost Monument the presentation here of the Doctor's anti-gun stance seems more hypocritical than usual - allowing creatures to die of suffocation or, we infer, starvation in preference to killing them directly.

Yaz and her family were fun, though even with their foregrounding here, she continues to feel oddly underdeveloped.

I enjoyed it at the time but in retrospect Arachnids in the UK feels like an oddly unsatisfactory tale.
purplecat: The  First Doctor (Who:One)
I had heard The Sensorites both highly praised (particularly for an atmospheric first episode) and high derided (for being deeply boring) so I was kind of interested to see which I would think it was.

Ultimately I thought it was fine but unspectacular, which surprised me a bit for an episode which seems to generate such strong opinions. Like Edge of Destruction there was just a bit too much random and not terribly well explained behaviour in the first episode for me to buy into its spooky atmosphere, meanwhile there was enough event in the later episodes, even if much of it does not bear up to close scrutiny, to keep me happily watching.

The Sensorites is a bit Star Trekky in its presentation of an Earth Space Crew of the future and in its attempt at something vaguely high concept in episode 1. But, to be honest, it pretty much loses interest in this when it moves down to the planet and into its vague tale of mystery and political intrigue. As noted above, enough is happening to keep the attention (at least I thought), but the moment you actually think about any of it an awful lot of questions of the "how did that work/was that supposed to work?" arise. Like much of early Doctor Who, its very serialised plotting, with an assumption that the viewer doesn't have a detailed memory of what happened before the episode began and a happiness for each episode to go off in its own direction without necessarily much strong over-arching plot coherence. Frankly however, there is an awful lot of Doctor Who that contains an awful lot more pointless padding than is on display here.

There are some nice bits with Susan using both her telepathy (for once!) and taking a look at her relationship with her grandfather (insofar as 1963 Doctor Who does relationship development), and some quite fun bits with Ian and the Doctor down in the sewers.

While quite a bit of the world-building is stupid (or at least in need of better development), it is one of early Doctor Who's more serious attempts to present an alien society and that is not without interest as well.

Overall a perfectly serviceable slice of 1963 Doctor Who and I'm mostly mystified that anyone thinks otherwise.


Dec. 30th, 2018 04:58 pm
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
When I first heard Doctor Who was going to do an episode about Rosa Parks I thought it was a brave choice in pretty much all senses of the word. You would think that either the plot "racism is caused by aliens" or "The Doctor inspired Rosa Parks" would have been obvious no-nos in 2018 but frankly you never know and this was possibly half-written by the man who gave us Cyberwoman*. So the early reveal that the SF-part of the episode would be about preventing someone from changing history came as something of a relief. Of course, Malorie Blackman, may well deserve much of the credit for the deft way Rosa handled its subject matter, and I'd certainly argue this was the best script of series 11 with Chibnall's name on it but, still, he's clearly come a long way since Torchwood series 1.

"This is more like it," B. remarked about 10 minutes in to the episode. Having been somewhat disappointed with the start of the series, there was already plenty here to get your teeth into and certainly more of a feeling of substance.

As the episode progressed I did begin to wonder a bit if we were getting The Ladybird History of Rosa Parks, this was partly the colour palette chosen for the episode that did remind me rather of the illustrations in Ladybird books, but also the way the episode was carefully presenting lots of Facts about Rosa, as people looked up bus time-tables, and recalled lessons from primary school. Of the many mistakes this episode could have made, erring on the side of being a bit over-didactic, was probably the one to go for. Moreover placed in the context of the rest of the first half of the season, there is a clear desire to go back to Doctor Who's educational routes which frankly works better in the historical stories than in the random science info-dumps some of the other episodes chose to give us. It's probably also fair to say that the most the average British person knows about Rosa Parks is that a lady who refused to give up her place on the bus had something to do with the American Civil Movement so a certain didacticism is probably fair enough. None of the online comment I've seen has felt the story was over-simplified, at least not in the way I feared, so my concerns there were probably needless.

Of course, the pitfall the episode didn't entirely avoid is espousing a kind of Great Man theory of history - the suggestion that only Rosa Parks and only on the 1st December 1955 could have started the Montgomery bus boycott. It clearly tries to mitigate this with its presentation of the meeting with Martin Luther King and the implied suggestion of the organisation behind the events, but I don't think that really succeeds.

Another problem the episode has, though one it shares with many in the series, is the lack of a good villain. I suspect this was a deliberate desire not to have a villain that over-shadowed the character of Rosa herself (who did not have the option, really, of chewing scenery in the time-honoured Doctor Who fashion) and it may also have been a meta-commentary on the nature of modern overt racism. While, in some ways, I think the episode might have worked better as a pure historical, it is difficult to see how the Doctor could have believably become involved without the villain's presence and actions and it would certainly have been impossible to have the very powerful scene of the Doctor and her companions on the bus as Rosa is arrested without the earlier set-up. It was also a moment where an episode which had, up until that point, been anxious to carefully spell everything out for the viewer, had the courage to let the actors and direction convey both the narrative and its underlying issues and themes.

Rosa was the first really excellent episode of series 11, in my opinion. I think it has flaws, many of which are inherent in trying to grapple with a subject as emotionally charged as the American Civil Rights movement in the context of a Doctor Who "celebrity" historical, but given the hot mess it could have been what we got was nothing short of a triumph.

* Yes, I know he claims the costume was not his doing and he only found about it too late to rectify but the costume isn't the only problem with the episode, and he was also well, status a bit unclear, but he was far from random jobbing writer on Torchwood so I'm dubious about this claim that the costume was completely outside his control.
purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
I think I enjoyed The Ghost Monument least of the last season. This may be in part because it occurred so early before I was used to the new style (I'd have to rewatch to see if I would re-evaluate). I didn't actively dislike it, but I did feel it was sort of just there. The plot was not only extremely straightforward, but it kind of stopped. I've heard criticisms elsewhere that one of the problems with this season is that the dialogue fails to deliver and I think that may be the problem here. The resolution to the story is perfectly good, and you can see how it should follow from what comes before, but the dialogue (and by extension performances) has failed to really convince that Angstrom and Epzo have moved to a point where they could cooperate and the episode refuses to give us the actual discussion where they agree to do so. Hence... it just stops.

More minor details: the Doctor's opposition to guns while not out of character looks even more hypocritical here (where moments later she zaps the robots with an EMP) than it normally does, and while we had Chekov's self-lighting cigar, we also get not-Chekov's flesh eating water.

So, yeah, from my perspective, The Ghost Monument just was.

More interestingly the Teenager bounced off it hard. She thought it was dull; Yaz was underused, Ryan was stupid, Graham was... (I've forgotten what Graham was); the cinematography was terrible (which surprised me a bit, since I had been sitting there thinking "well at least it's pretty", but apparently there were too many close-ups of people's eyes); and everyone was over-sharing their feelings.

So now you know!
purplecat: The Seventh Doctor (Who:Seven)
Back in the day, Delta and the Bannermen was one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. I think, in part, this came from watching with my parents who had been in their teens and early twenties in the 1950s when it is set. The story makes the most of the time period in its sound track and set dressing, and my parents had a nice trip down memory lane.

Delta and the Bannermen was made during what I tend to think of as the awkward transition year, after Eric Saward had left as script editor but before Andrew Cartmel had really taken control of the show. It has the whimsey/surreality of stories like The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy without having the more serious undercurrents of most of the work Cartmel edited. It also has the random and largely unnecessary massacre of a bus load of a harmless tourists which feels like a hold over from Saward's tenure.

Watching it, many years after the first viewing, with Tame Layman, it still (tourist massacre aside) has plenty of verve and is (tourist massacre aside) a fun and light-hearted tale but, beyond that, it seems a rather insubstantial. Tame Layman commented that it was basically an extended chase scene in its construction and there is some truth in that.

One of the most interesting thing about Delta and the Bannermen is Ray, the companion who never was. At this point in the show the production team knew Bonnie Langford was leaving and considered two replacements - the lovelorn Welsh motorcycle mechanic wannabe Ray from this and Ace from Dragonfire (the next story). I can see why they went for Ace, her characterisation is more immediate from the start and contemporary companions are generally considered easier to write engagingly, and I think Ace was great, but sometimes I regret that we didn't get the rather gentler Ray. She had the capacity to be just independent and capable as Ace was allowed to be while at the same time being less in your face with her attitude and issues.

I remain fond of Delta and the Bannermen. It has a rather poor reputation and fandom circles. Its characters are a collection of bizarre and somewhat random folk (including a cameo from Ken Dodd) and if you don't buy into the bizarre randomness of it as, essentially, part of its charm, then its lack of budget and weird set of characters makes it look like a reject from a children's show such as Rentaghost. I love its joy in its 1950sness and its madcap and random heart, but Tame Layman is right that it really is just a long chase scene with screwball comedy aspirations and it is marred by the unnecessary massacre of the bus load of innocent and charming tourists.
purplecat: The Fourth Doctor (Who:Four)

A woman in a blue top holding a knife stands to the left with the fourth Doctor behind her and a third man behind him.  They are standing at some kind of table looking at something out of view.
You can tell it's Leela because she's holding a knife!

From the Doctor Who story Flashback from the 1979 annual.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: Just finished After the Dinosaurs, moving on to Ninefox Gambit.

Listening: Still mostly Doctor Who podcasts, particularly now Radio Free Skaro have started their advent calendar.

Watching: Grimm mostly, though we did show the Teenager the first episodes of Blakes' 7


purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

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