purplecat: The Seventh Doctor and Ace (Who:Seven)
The Curse of Fenric is, probably correctly, considered one of the best seventh Doctor stories. However I've always felt vaguely dissatisfied with it. There was much talk at the time about how much of the story ended up on the cutting room floor, so we opted to watch the extended version which restored a great deal of this lost material. I'm not sure that really helped. Its flaws, which are the flaws of many of the stories overseen by Andrew Cartmel, are not really addressed by the additional scenes.

I feel like I'm being churlish because I do like the story and the Cartmel era a lot. Maybe it is just that Curse of Fenric comes in for so much praise that it makes me feel contrary. We have the single most unconvincing seduction scene I have ever seen in visual media. The villain destroys all his henchmen for no readily apparent reason, in fact a number of events take place because the plot requires them to and not because they actually make sense (e.g., Kathleen Dudman being left behind after the evacuation of the base). It's been said that Cartmel was deliberately trying to evoke some of the stuff that was happening in comics at the time and I do wonder if this sensibility explains why so many of the scenes are cut short to a ridiculous extent: the Doctor and Ace show up, they exchange three or four entirely to the point remarks with someone in the scene and then they leave. I think a comic would start such scenes in media res (though I can't really see why the show could not do this). In the first episode, in particular, it's like the two of them just keep popping up places and then dashing off. Ace forms strong emotional attachments (to the Baby, to Sorin) apparently out of the blue. It doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue is... a bit not good (see unconvincing seduction scene). The extended version makes a great deal, in the dialogue, that "undercurrants" is a theme. This doesn't actually help any character sound like a real person actually talking the way real people do.

On the plus side, it has a lot of cool ideas and visuals. The idea of the curse of Fenric descending through the generations in this isolated location is revealed well. In fact, in general, the back story and the way all the various elements tie together is done well (which may be an advantage of the extended version) and actually makes sense. Nicholas Parsons is unexpectedly excellent as Wainwright, making the most of a part written with considerable nuance - and in fact interesting stuff is done in general with the various characters wrestling with their consciences over their behaviour and the behaviour of their "side" in the war. The Timey-wimeyness with the baby, while a bit heavy-handed is an interesting idea. Given the budget, the production both looks and sounds impressive.

I prefer Rememberance of the Daleks, both because it is playing to the fans and because it seems to be having more fun. The Curse of Fenric takes itself more seriously and is trying to do more with its various themes, but while I can admire its ambition and its earnestness, and admire how well it manages to pull everything off, it is still not quite good enough to make me warm to it.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I can finally say of a famously long Doctor Who story that it's no better than it deserves to be given the length. It is a shame because, I've been impressed by the longer Who stories of the late sixties and early seventies and was starting to wonder if it was actually a strength of the show.

"Ooh! I've seen a story with Peter Purves in it where the daleks spend the whole story chasing the Doctor!" Tame Layman said at the start. He was thinking of The Chase which I've not seen, but it did rather highlight the fact that not only are there 12 episodes of this but that it reusing an idea from only a few stories earlier.

The Daleks' Master Plan feels like something very different from The Invasion, The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death which all have a certain similarity. In fact The Daleks' Masterplan feels more closely aligned to the serialised Flash Gordon series from the 1930s (I think), that I recall showing on BBC2 when I was growing up than it does even to much of the Doctor Who that surrounds it. Most of the episodes feel oddly self-contained as if the writer only had a rough idea of where the story was going and was content simply to move from the cliffhanger at the start of the episode to the cliffhanger at the end, with a certain amount of action involving Daleks pursuing the Tardis in order to regain the Taranium core in the middle. I am certain that I read at some point that the two credited writers, Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner, alternated episodes each challenging the other with a cliffhanger, although wikipedia and later writing about the story suggests more that Nation wrote the first half and Spooner the second. However one can see, from the shape of the thing, how the idea that they alternated could have gained some credence.

The story has a delight in its crazy aliens which has rarely been matched since, possibly because budget and higher costuming standards/good sense have prohibited it. However this idea of a vast galaxy/universe with a myriad of races is also reminiscent of Flash Gordon and the races and cultures of Mongo.

On the whole I would say that Nation's half of the story is the stronger, which is a shame because the character of pseudo-companion Sara Kingdom, introduced halfway through is one of the story's high points. From reading synopses, I had always got the impression that Sara was something of a caricature of the highly-efficient "kick ass" female soldier (which, frankly, given the time would have been a radical departure for Doctor Who as it stands) but in fact we get someone who is much less of an emotionless automaton, who has a sense of humour, and a genuine connection to the Doctor and Steven (while also being an efficient, capable soldier) and so feels dramatically rounded for an "independent woman" character in a 1960s SciFi show. Of course, some of this may be in Jean Marsh's performance and not in the script itself but I would have loved to see more of her, particularly in a set of episodes where I hadn't begun to tire of the format. In contrast, Nicholas Courtney's first appearance in Doctor Who as Sara's brother, Bret Vyon, is oddly forgettable.

Mavic Chen is another strong point. I kept wondering why he reminded me so much of Tobias Vaughn from The Invasion. There are some obvious similarities: Chen has allied himself with the Daleks, as Vaughn did with the Cybermen and both show awareness of the fragility of their position. However, where Vaughn recognised he was disposable and planned to mitigate the fact, Chen only occasionally shows a glimmering of understanding of quite how precarious his position is. Then I realised that actually they are played by the same actor - demonstrating if nothing else, I suppose, that The Talons of Weng Chiang was not the first time the show chose to indulge in black/yellowface (Chen has a Chinese surname, but his make-up suggests a darker skin).

I also still like the Meddling Monk, but it's undeniable that he isn't as good here as he was in The Time Meddlar. His pettiness has an edge of vindictiveness, not present in the earlier story and his cowardice is too predictable.

We were relieved that three of the episodes of this 12/13 part epic actually exist. They were generally a great deal more watchable than the variety of reconstructions we sourced from Youtube. Of these an animation of the first (zeroth?) Doctor and companion-free episode Mission to the Unknown was the most interesting, and had pretty accomplished animation for a Youtube effort. Although I think it unlikely this will ever be re-appraised as a classic, I do think it a shame that more of it doesn't exist. The episodes that do remain were refreshing and entertaining enough when they did come along that I can imagine the story working quite well in a mindless entertainment sort of a way if there were moving pictures to accompany it. Sadly audio and reconstructions of various kinds only highlight the way much of the story (from the point where the Doctor steals the Taranium core to the point where the daleks recover it) is simply and extended multi-episode chase sequence.
purplecat: Twelfth Doctor and the number 12 (Who:Twelve)
World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls must form one of the best season finales in NuWho. In general I've been pretty unimpressed by these finales, feeling they had a tendency to over-emphasize spectacle at the expense of any real coherence. I thought Heaven Sent/Hell Bent were a marked improvement on previous attempts but thought this was even better - possibly because I was never that invested in Clara as a companion where I really did like this Tardis team and am genuninely sorry to see it to an end. Actually, just as I feel I couldn't really critically view The Eater of Light because it was such a nostalgia fest for me, I suspect I can't view this as critically as it might deserve given how invested I was in this Tardis team by this point.

More under the Cut )

So yes I liked this. I liked this mostly for the Cybermen in World Enough and Time and Bill's story throughout. Despite the fact there were a number of flaws (particularly in the logic of the situation) I thought it stood up pretty well in general, especially in comparison to other season finales.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I wasn't really sure what to expect from The Myth Makers going into it. I have a fairly low tolerance threshold for so-so comedy and, while it has a good reputation, it is also Doctor Who attempting comedy in the 1960s and I had not been overly impressed by The Romans.

Actually it is surprisingly good )

I would genuinely love to see what The Myth Makers actually looked like. Doctor Who so rarely whole-heartedly tries to do comedy and this has some great dialogue and comic moments. I would have liked to see the actors faces as the lines were delivered. Watching telesnap reconstructions of old Doctor Who is definitely a fans-only past time, but if you feel up to the effort then I would say that The Myth Makers is more rewarding than many.
purplecat: Twelfth Doctor and the number 12 (Who:Twelve)
Three formative things from my childhood/teenage years: The books of Rosemary Sutcliff, the folk-music inspired output of Clannad, holidays spent in Scotland.

To be honest, I also rate Survival pretty highly, so The Eater of Light would have had to try pretty hard for me not to love it. I'm not sure I can even remotely claim to be looking over this story with an unbiased eye. I loved it a lot. It does reassure me that The Teenager also loved it however, despite considerable sceptism about Rosemary Sutcliff (occasionally I give her the books, she tactfully ignores the gesture), and no memories of Scotland (or Survival).

She does like Clannad though, but I'd argue that the music here, while definitely folk-inspired, is not particularly Clannad-ish.

Spoilers under the Cut )

I loved this. It hit me in all my nostalgia weak points and handled this particular TARDIS team, which I already liked, perfectly enough to convert me from well-disposed to a fan. The Teenager said she thought it might be her favourite Doctor Who story. I'm not sure I'd necessarily go that far (this is no Blink!) and I'm almost frightened to see how it would stand up to a rewatch because I'm very aware that external factors were effecting my ability to think critically about this. But on a single viewing, I'd say it was my favourite Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole story.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
This was our second venture into Season 7 and another impressive story.

Stretched over 7 episodes, it is another story that is much better than it has any right to be given its length - and I'm writing that so frequently that I'm beginning to wonder if Doctor Who actually works better when trying to fill 3 hours or more than when it is aiming for around 2 1/2 hours or whether it is the simple novelty of having so many episodes to fill that makes writers think more broadly. I mean it still has the basic structure of set-up - solve incidental problems - resolution but the incidental problems seem to work better as discreet chunks that are interesting in their own right.

The episodes which deal with the Silurian's attempts to start a worldwide pandemic are particularly effective, and a sequence I recall vividly from the novelisation. This is several years before Survivors but seems to be tapping into the same zeitgeist. That said, tame layman had a number of uncomplimentary things to say about quarantine procedures and one can't help feeling the whole thing hinges on several people in authority behaving very foolishly at critical moments.

Fulton Mackay's turn as the weasely Dr. Quinn is also impressive. The audience perception of him naturally progresses from the idea that he is one of the more reasonable members of the research centre hierarchy to the realisation that he is essentially ambitiously self-serving and covering this up with an air of geniality.

On the downside the idea that people are overcome by the race memory of Silurians, which is potentially powerful and atmospheric is more or less abandoned after the first couple of episodes. It is used to justify the presence of UNIT but not really pursued thereafter. I recall more being made of it in the novelisation.

Caroline John continues to make Liz an impressive companion. She demonstrates how a scientist-companion can be used as a person to whom work and responsibility can be delegated by the Doctor. I'm increasingly bemused by the idea that the powers-that-be thought she was not a success as a companion since the script doesn't seem to have any trouble with giving her stuff to do while maintaining the Doctor's overall authority.

Doctor Who would be a very different thing if it had continued down the path set out in season 7. I think you would need to be a much better analyst of media trends than I am to predict whether it could have had the longevity it has enjoyed with this more serious and adult-oriented format but, by its own lights, I would say it was a resounding success.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
People compare Mark Gatiss who stories to the Pertwee era surprisingly often to my mind. I think he's on record as saying it's his favourite era of the show and it's true his stories tend to have a straight up monster or villain but the Pertwee era is typified, I would say, by the presence of overtly political themes (absent from Gatiss') work and a fairly sparse and functional approach to setting where Gatiss' (possibly because of his interest in Victoriana) tends towards the Gothic. In fact, apart from the fact Gatiss doesn't borrow from Horror tropes, I would have said that the Hinchcliffe era was a better point of comparison.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, no matter what the rest of the Internet might think, I can't really imagine Empress of Mars in the Pertwee era.

More under the cut )

This is, I get the impression, the episode that Gatiss has always wanted to write and I think it shows. It is having a lot of fun, telling a ripping yarn, and manages to feel both like a Doctor Who story and like a Scientific Romance.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Hmmm... The Lie of the Land was better than The Pyramid at the End of the World. In fact given endings are so much harder than beginnings, I'd say it did a pretty good job of tying up the "Monk Trilogy". Ultimately though, I think it had the same problem that The Pyramid at the End of the World had, namely that the Monks are not really a Science Fictiony baddy at all but more a Fairytale baddy and the meshing of the Fairytale baddy with the pretty straight-up SF presentation doesn't really work.

I call the Monks a "fairytale" baddy mostly because, as I observed of The Pyramid at the End of the World, before they can take over the planet they require an explicit though ill-defined bargain to be struck, but also because here they are ultimately defeated by the magic of love. Both of these are more about symbolism than physical reality. I will note that the resolution in The Lie of the Land has a better explanation than the initial bargain - the idea that they are defeated by a concept that is both about love but also as fictional as their own narrative - and that the whole thing works considerably better than the Tenth Doctor's much-maligned Tinkerbell-Jesus moment at the end of Last of the Time Lords of which it was very reminiscent. However this still feels a lot more like fairytale logic than SF logic. I don't think it helps that the Monk's nature, motivation and powers are all exceptionally hazy. In The Pyramid at the End of the World they can pluck fighter planes from the sky and nuclear submarines from the sea and yet here, once the false memories are removed, they are fairly easily defeated (or at least scared off) by a few soldiers. If the Monk Trilogy had been trying to evoke an atmosphere similar, say, to Sapphire and Steel then this might have worked but its trappings are all modern-day (SF) mystery/thriller (Extremis, The Pyramid at the End of the World) and near future dystopia (The Lie of the Land) and I don't think the story quite earned breaking the mould of those genres with its underlying explanations.

I really like this Tardis crew, and their interactions. Once again, I liked what we saw here of Bill and Nardole working together. I wasn't so keen on the Doctor testing Bill, but the fact that she more or less accepted his explanation of his behaviour as justified sort of brought me round. However, I couldn't quite escape the feeling that the story had just wasted 10-15 minutes on trolling the viewers about when the regeneration was going to happen. I thought the scene with Missy in the vault, and the different ways the Doctor and Bill reacted to her solution were great. I thought Bill hand-cuffing the Doctor up at the end and getting on with what needed to be done was also great, but a lot of this is about the characters and the actors and not really about the story construction.

On a story level, The Lie of the Land works better than Pyramid (though I did wonder why everyone was wearing dark colours all of a sudden), but I think it would ultimately have been stronger if we hadn't had a fake regeneration half-way through, a fake reset at the end (I know it's a Doctor Who handwave that humanity tends to forget invasions but it was treated particularly dismissively here and one of the things I wholeheartedly preferred about RTD's version of Doctor Who was he was absolutely prepared to run with the population of Earth remembering alien invasions) and if someone had put a bit more thought into what the Monks actually are (and why they are called Monks once taken out of the context of the Vatican in Extremis) and how they work.

I want to like series 10 more than I am, because I think they have finally got the characterisation of the Twelfth Doctor right and I think the combination of Bill and Nardole as companions works really well, but so far I've found it hard to get completely behind any of the stories. This trilogy in the middle feels particularly weak. I suspect some of this is simply because it is attempting to be a trilogy. Ultimately, I think having three linked episodes in the middle of a season is an interesting idea, but it hasn't really worked. I'm not sure if that is because of its placement in the season, or just because coordinating three different writers across three different stories introduces a new level of complexity into maintaining a consistent plot logic and presentation of your monster/villain.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I have to agree with [personal profile] londonkds' assessment of this episode. It was clearly required to get events from point A to point B and it did so competently enough, but the scaffolding is a little too visible (particularly the somewhat bizarre set-up and protocols of the bio-hazard lab).

I'm in two minds about whether the overall structure, in which the audience is aware almost from the get-go that events in Turmezistan are a red herring. It is very rare that the viewer is significantly ahead of the Doctor in understanding a situation. On the one hand, it ups the tension as we wait for the Doctor to figure it out but on the other it drains the tension out of the suggestion that world war three might be looming.

I very rarely opt for head-canon when explaining a story, but I'm headcanoning here that whatever the Monks mean by "pure consent" is untranslatable into English. While Bill's motivation for giving consent is clearly different to that of the U.N. Secretary General or the three generals, it is not given out of any kind of pure love for the Monks and is clearly given in the expectation that if the Doctor remains alive he can somehow fix the situation. I actually think the nature of the Monks both here and in The Lie of the Land owes more to the fairytale tropes that Moffat was trying to evoke in his early years as show-runner than more recent monsters. The Monks require you to make a symbolic bargain with them the terms of which are unclear. I may write more on this when I get around to reviewing The Lie of the Land.

I also wasn't entirely convinced by the speed and readiness with which everyone took the Monks' assertion that the end of the world was nigh at face value.

There are some great visuals in this story and some great ideas, but I was left feeling that not quite enough thought had gone into actually linking everything together into a coherent whole. It's construction was workmanlike rather than actually good. I'd say it was the weakest story so far this season.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
It was interesting watching Planet of the Daleks so soon after The Daleks, because the one is so reminiscent of the other. There is the mysterious forest, the first appearance of the Thals since 1963, the somewhat random companion romance that ultimately goes nowhere, the final attack on the Dalek city...

Planet of the Daleks packs more incident into its 6 episodes than The Daleks does into its 7, but I'm not sure it actually benefits from the fact. While The Daleks moves more slowly, its focus on the character interactions of the leads (understandable this early in the show), plus its design strengths makes it feel more special than Planet.

Not that Planet of the Daleks is bad. The Doctor and Jo are charming to watch together. It may not be doing the kind of character development that The Daleks does, but it is still a well-observed excellently portrayed friendship. On the design front, the Spiridon's metallic blue furry blankets have a certain je ne sais quois. The sets throughout are competent and mostly good looking (give or take the eyes of the creatures on the night time plain of stones), but nothing has the flair of the sets in The Daleks. The story, as noted, keeps things moving - so much so that it feels almost like several different stories strung together (Jo surviving in the jungle, Distrust from the Thals, Night on the Plain of Stones, Final assault on the Daleks) but if you aren't concentrating too hard it is pacey and entertaining.

The abortive romance between Latep and Jo is less convincing than that between Ganatus and Barbara. Latep is far more overt about his feelings, but this actually (on such short acquaintance) makes them less believable and it seems entirely unsurprising when Jo politely brushes him off. This is the story before The Green Death so one assumes it was intended to be a kind of foreshadowing, but the execution feels clumsy.

Planet of the Daleks may not be a classic but it's a very solid slice of 1970s Doctor Who with, in particular, great moments for the third Doctor and Jo.

Extremis

Jun. 4th, 2017 09:16 am
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I really liked Extremis even though I think, as a story, it is a lot less well constructed than either Knock! Knock! or Oxygen.

Is it too late to worry about spoilers? I don't know. )

After two episodes I felt were well-constructed but ultimately a little unambitious, I liked an episode which might have been rather messier but had a lot of interesting ideas baked into it and which executed what is, let's face it, a fairly standard SF trope without falling into some of the pitfalls of that trope.

Oxygen

May. 26th, 2017 10:01 pm
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Oxygen struck me as, structurally, being very similar to Knock! Knock! and, like Knock! Knock!, I feel I like it less than it deserves to be liked.

Both Oxygen and Knock! Knock! tell neatly self-contained stories. These are well-produced and acted with scripts that are thoughtful while fitting recognisably within the mould of a Doctor Who story. Fond as I am of the Sylvester McCoy era, it would have struggled to produce two stories of this high quality in close succession. In fact if these had appeared during a Sylvester McCoy season, I suspect I would have rated them as highly as stories like Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric.

This isn't a Sylvester McCoy season though, my expectations are different, and somehow neither managed to really grab me.

I don't really want to nit-pick at Oxygen, but among other things I'm dubious about the economics on display. I've mentioned a couple of times when discussing this season, about how you identify that point in a fantastical show, where it's breaking its own unstated rules of consistency. The problem Oxygen had for me specifically as someone who has hung around space scientists a bit, is that its very emphasis on the realities of surviving in a vacuum made me expect more realism from the rest of the Space Science. The reality of space is it is really, really expensive to put people up there (in weight terms, even if you're not factoring in the expense of training someone and are, apparently, discounting any value in human life) so you probably don't want them randomly suffocating even if they are not being as productive as you might like. This then, of course, made me think of the practices of Victorian factory owners and making your workers indebted to you for their use of oxygen (and thereby imposing a form of slavery) and that somehow seemed more plausible though not, obviously as likely to produce space zombies. Like the "how does agriculture work on Christmas?" problem I had with Matt Smith's final story, this distracted me far more than it should have done.

I'm not really qualified to comment on the depiction of disability. [personal profile] hollymath has written eloquently about how hurtful she found it though I've seen other commentary that was cautiously optimistic or at least "jury still out" on the subject.

I was disappointed that the blue alien had no function in the story beyond making a simplistic point about racism and then dying.

Did I like anything about the story? Yes, actually. I really liked the interactions between Bill, Nardole and the Doctor. This is the first time we've seen them operating as a team and I liked the way the dynamic of two companions (who aren't romantically linked in any way) worked, particularly the way that the two of them can jointly put different perspectives to the Doctor. In fact I really like this softer version of the twelfth Doctor and both his new companions.

I did think the story was well-paced, well-acted and I liked that it was allowed to be about something and that its resolution tied back to its themes and the set up of the problem. I'm far from convinced it is really Oxygen's fault that I got distracted by picking holes.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I have vague memories of starting to watch The Daleks once and then giving up because I felt it was too dull and slow-paced. This rather surprises me now. I'm not sure if that is age, or watching it much more episodically, or simply that I'm now more used to the pacing of 1960s Doctor Who. At any rate, I thought it went along at a pretty decent pace all told and while the plot wasn't exactly full of twists, it did keep progressing from Dalek city, to the forest, to the lake and the caves and then back to the city again.

Much has been written about the design of the Daleks and its contribution to their success. It's difficult not to be impressed. Even today most Doctor Who monsters definitely adhere to the "man in a suit" model, so seeing something from so early in the show that really doesn't look remotely like a man in a suit. The fact that the fundamental design of the Daleks has altered so little since then is probably a testament to its longevity. Even the sink plunger which ought to tip them over into the ridiculous seems to work, and to continue to work. While the design of the Daleks has been much praised, the design of their City is also pretty impressive, both in terms of the exterior shots of the whole city and the internal corridors. There isn't anything in this story that looks risible and a great deal of it looks very good indeed.

Some of the dialogue is also surprisingly nuanced for Doctor Who and a reminder that, at this point in time, its writers viewed it as an ensemble show. I'm particularly thinking of the discussion in the forest over the morality of pressurising the Thals to help them, though I'm not quite sure (even in 1963) why the dynamic of this is the Doctor and Barbara attempting to persuade Ian to persuade the Thals, as if the Doctor and Barbara can't have a go at a bit of persuading themselves. In fact, I'm not at all sure what this story's attitude is to the concept of Ian as the leader. It seems to be implicit in quite a lot that happens, but then the script also undermines him - particularly in the sequence when it becomes clear that only Susan can venture back to the Tardis to fetch the anti-radiation drugs where Ian is basically a bit of a tit about the whole situation.

On the down side, the Thals are rather bland, more so than I remembered from the novelisation - though they do avoid the 1970s mistake of looking like a bunch of actors who have never done a day's physical labour in their lives. They are almost uniformly kind, thoughtful and a little bewildered looking - the only excepion really being Antodus who's cowardly and bewildered looking. My memory from the novelisation is that they were better differentiated than this, but the novelisation is a slightly different beast. I was aware that there was supposed to be a potential romance between Ganatus and Barbara and so spotted the various hints of this, but Tame Layman was a bit taken aback at the end when it was made more explicit in their farewell. Susan is also fairly ill-served by the story although I'm beginning to feel that Susan is often ill-served. While the Randomiser re-watches have improved my opinion of many of the 60s era "screamer" companions, I think my opinion of Susan has dropped. Sadly, the most interesting thing about her is her background. Otherwise, an awful lot of the time, her role in any story just to scream hysterically and panic. Here she is given a moment to shine, when she fetches the anti-radiation drugs, but the script undermines her even then by focusing mostly on her fear and not on her bravery.

I don't know why I formed such a low opinion of this story the first time I came across it. It is mostly intelligently written, well-designed and pretty pacey to watch. As the story that first introduced the Daleks its significance in the history of Doctor Who is clear and it is a story which I think a moderately tolerant modern viewer could easily enjoy.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I feel curiously underwhelmed by Knock, Knock since its an extremely well-crafted story, that holds together nicely, keeps it's pacing and even manages to be about something in a quiet sort of way ((grand)parents and children, growing up and independence). I'm not sure if this is because it is so clearly stand alone and designed to be such, or because a lot of the story is basically running up and down corridors or, I don't know, something else.

Doctor Who classically, is at its best when presenting horror-lite in this fashion but this didn't feel to me quite like a Doctor Who story. Mysterious tower, notwithstanding, it isn't quite as full-blown gothic in its horror as a lot of the Hinchcliffe era since it clearly has more DNA in the teen slasher movies of the 1980s than it does in Hammer Horror. Similarly Doctor Who has only really had the option of telling stories in which the Doctor impinges upon his companion's lives in this way since the advent of the "part time" companion with the Ponds and has, perhaps wisely, used this device relatively sparingly. Both The Power of Three and The Caretaker were successful in their own ways, but they are definitely also clearly something left of field in a way this isn't.

All that said, I watched this with my mother (not a regular watcher of NuWho) and she clearly felt she had been shown something pleasantly familiar - all the better for the inclusion of David Suchet as the Landlord.

It is also hard to feel particularly churlish about the re-use of the "wooden person" effect since it looked so good. The curled wooden hair, in particular, looked stunning. However one does have a feeling that a lot of effects are being reused this season and while, as a cost saving exercise, I would prefer they re-used good effects that work than attempt to create new effects on the cheap that don't, they do seem to be re-using a lot of effects.

There's nothing wrong with this episode and a lot to like, particularly the central performances from Capaldi, Mackie and Suchet but somehow there wasn't anything here that actually made me excited.

Thin Ice

May. 9th, 2017 08:56 pm
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I'd say Thin Ice was easily the best story so far this season. It possibly benefits from the fact that, even though it is "introduce Bill to history" episode a lot of the basics of her introduction to the Doctor and his life have been covered. The episode does not need to spend its first third focussed primarily on interactions between the leads and can launch into the plot much more directly.

It possibly benefits from this, that said it is the "introduce Bill to history" episode and it is the episode that gets to grapple directly with the issue of people dying and the Doctor's culpability for people's death, so there is still a lot of emphasis on Bill and the Doctor. Somehow this episode seemed to be able to make their interactions feel much more a part of the general story as opposed to having an opening "Bill and the Doctor" act followed by the rest. I thought Bill grappling with the Doctor's responsibility for people's deaths was particularly well done. It was acknowledged and moved past without being ignored - and a lot of that is probably due to Pearl Mackie's performance because there wasn't a lot of dialogue on the subject.

I have, at various times in Moffat's Who, felt he was making a deliberate commentary upon Russell T. Davies' tenure. Rory often came across as an analogue of Mickey; there has been a lot of fairly explicit criticism of Donna's mind-wipe; and a lot of this felt like engagement with fan criticism of the treatment of Martha's colour as a non-issue in The Shakespeare Code. I'm not sure if that was deliberate or just a natural consequence of a different writer tackling the question of how a modern black woman might react to finding herself in Regency England and the things she might, in particular, notice about it. Obviously this wasn't a Moffat-penned episode so it is hard to know how much of this came from Sarah Dollard and how much was Moffat. I hope it wasn't Moffat, in a way, because six years in is way past time to be making Doctor Who in reaction to what went before.

I'm liking Bill a lot. I was initially pretty dubious about her. While, yes, it's great to have a black lesbian companion, I did worry that the writers would spend far too much using her as a vehicle to make worthy points rather than letting her be a character in her own right. In the introductory short she also seemed very broadly comic which didn't really endear her to me, but she undeniably works well with this less abrasive version of the twelfth Doctor. While there have been lots of comparisons with Rose, in some ways she actually reminds me more of Donna - someone who is very direct, not too over-awed by the Doctor and who often approaches things from a very individual angle.

Now the explicitly introductory episodes are over, I'll be interested to see how this season shapes up and gets into its stride.

Smile

May. 8th, 2017 08:57 pm
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I was really enjoying Smile right up until the final 10 minutes or so. I actually enjoyed the Doctor and Bill exploring the empty colony and figuring out the threat more than I had the previous weeks' depicition of them initially getting to know each other.

Like In the Forest of the Night this had bags of atmosphere, but it was less overt than Forest with its explicit evocation of fairy tales and I thought, gorgeous as Forest was, that Smile benefitted from a more realist tone and less intense evocation of place.

Where In the Forest of the Night fell apart for me, and for most viewers, I think, was in its explanation for the trees. In my review of The Pilot I touched on the difficulty of pinpointing where a pseudo-scientific explanation in a show like Doctor Who fails to convince. After all, in a show about someone who travels through time and space in a police box, what is so inherently ridiculous about the concept of magic space trees? any yet for a large segment of the audience they clearly pushed suspension of disbelief too far.

I don't think the resolution of Smile works any better than In the Forest of the Night but I think it is easier to figure out what went wrong with it. At the level of the in show explanation, we have been told that the problem here is that the Emojibots have learned that they can eliminate unhappiness by eliminating the people who are unhappy - the solution we are presented with emphasises the concept of equal rights for robots which does not really seem to follow from the problem. To compound the issue, only the previous week the show has emphasised the potential amorality of mind-wipes. So here we have the Doctor first mind-wipe the robots as a solution to the immediate problem but then assert that they are sentient creatures deserving of respect. On a thematic level, in a story which has been about the impossibility of permanent happiness and the effect of grief a solution which not only side-lines but downplays the colonists grief at the end seems jarringly out of place. Smile doesn't feel as insulting to basic intelligence as In the Forest of the Night did, but its ending still feels incredibly clumsy to me, particularly in contrast to the story that had preceded it.

I think Frank Cotterell-Boyce is excellent at invoking a sense of place, creating atmosphere and introducing interesting themes. However I think he's really bad at then bringing all these elements together into resolutions that make sense. In Smile the problem is that the resolution is almost actively working against both his themes and the problem he has presented. I'm still not quite sure why the resolution to In the Forest of the Night doesn't work beyond that the appearance of Maeve's lost sister comes from nowhere and follows from nothing previously established about the magic space trees, but I suspect part of the problem is that Cotterell-Boyce doesn't really seem to have grasped the essence of the scientific concepts he is attempting to use, so that they appear as set dressing on a story that is magic realist without the guts to actually admit as such. I think part of the problem with Smile is that he's equating any solution related to Artificial Intelligence with any problem related to Artificial Intelligence without realising that AI is far from some monolithic thing within which any solution solves any problem.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
"What is she wearing?" Tame Layman asked incredulously when Liz first appeared.

"I don't know," says I, "whatever Cambridge dons tended to wear in the 1970s".

"Oh, yes! I've seen the photos."

Not quite how I was expecting that exchange to end, though it's nice to know "she's a Cambridge don" absolves one of all bizarre fashion choices. Liz changes into something much more boring later on, but initially she is resplendent in a pink mini-dress, white boots and a sort of sleeveless brown jacket type thing. The Internet is failing miserably to serve me up an image of this in its full glory, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

More under the cut )

All that said we were repeatedly reduced to giggles by the title sequence which presented the story title in two parts. "Ambassadors" it would say before suddenly adding "of Death".

The Pilot

Apr. 25th, 2017 09:08 pm
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
Season openers and companion introductions are always a little insubstantial. They generally have a lot of ground to cover, in introducing (or re-introducing) characters while at the same time wanting to keep things fairly fast-paced and not too serious. In general I would say that Doctor Who has erred on the side of "light and fast-paced" with a focus on the companion's reaction to adventure. The Pilot clearly chose to go a little slower than usual in its introduction of Bill. It spends a lot of time establishing her relationship to the Doctor in the absence of any peril or adventure and only then brings the sci-fi plot of the episode forward.

On the whole I thought it did a good job of introducing Bill. I'm not as super-excited about her as a lot of people are, I got a sense of the script trying a little too hard to be funny in places. An "Educating Rita" relationship between Doctor and companion is an excellent idea but there is a fine line between portraying someone as bright, but uneducated, and being a little condescending towards your character and I'm not sure the script always got this right. That said I thought it was interesting that, while the show made much of how like the Doctor Clara was, in manner Bill is much more like the Doctor - in particular her tendency to gabble when either she is trying to deflect a line of questioning or she is simply nervous. She also has some of Capaldi's awkwardness of manner. I thought the monologue about serving her crush chips was great and very Doctorish in a lot of ways*.

A big deal was made in the pre-publicity for The Pilot that Bill would be a lesbian and, paradoxically, that big deal would not be made of this in the show. I was a little bemused in advance about how this could be achieved. Let's face it, Doctor Who is not the kind of show in which people discuss their sexuality a great deal (albeit this has been more common in NuWho than in Classic Who). How, I wondered, does one casually throw a mention of sexuality into a Doctor Who story? The answer, in retrospect, was obvious. I liked that the plot was driven by Bill's romantic interest.

That said the plot itself felt like it had some glaring holes in it. It is always difficult with a science fantastical show like Doctor Who to discuss what is, and isn't, realistic within the world of the show. However Heather, as the Pilot's, ability to cross time and space in sequence with the order of events as experienced by Bill and not in strict temporal order seemed... unlikely. The plot was also, as "Deb from Philadelphia" in the Verity podcast pointed out, something of a "greatest hits" of a number of things we have seen several times before in NuWho - all the more so when you throw "Educating Rita" into the mix. There were some lovely moments but on a story level, I wasn't particularly excited by this.

The set up shown, of the Doctor semi-fixed in a contemporary university is, hopefully, a chance for the show to be a little different this season. This is certainly a very different Doctor in lots of ways from the one we saw in seasons 8 and 9. One of my favourite moments in the story was the realisation that he had gone back in time to provide Bill with missing photos of her mother. This is a very different person from the one who had to read out cue cards, supplied by Clara, in order to interact appropriately with distressed humans. Nardole may have commented on his obliviousness to Bill's distress at the end, but this still seemed like a Doctor who had come a long way in his understanding of, or at least his willingness to deal with (I was never entirely convinced that the Doctor was oblivious to the feelings of those around him) the emotions of everyone else.

I've no strong feelings about Nardole. I like his dynamic with the Doctor which is so different to the typical Doctor Companion dynamic, but he was very much in the background here.

Overall I liked this. I thought it was a little slow at the start, but the new Tardis team and the university setting (albeit, as Tame Layman pointed out, university's don't work like that - though universities remain quixotic enough that it's not beyond the realms of possibility) have promise. As a long time fan, I'm rarely particularly excited by season openers, especially when they are designed (as this one clearly was) as a jumping on point, I'm too keen to get on with the story, but this one did its job.

*and yes there was a fat joke, but surely Bill as a character is allowed to be awkward about her attitude to weight - it's not like most people don't have an awkward relationship to weight.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

I acknowledge the truth of this under the cut )

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.
purplecat: The Tardis (Doctor Who)
I thought that I had seen Death to the Daleks but it didn't feel particularly familiar when we sat down to watch it. Well apart from the obvious familiarity of a Dalek story filmed in a sandpit in Kent, with an additional section in which someone tries to sacrifice Sarah.

In some ways it's an oddly disjoint story. The Daleks don't appear until the end of the first episode and are sidelined for much of the last. To be honest I think Terry Nation was more interested in the concept of the (somewhat ill-defined) anti-electricity planet, the empty city and the people who worship it, and the extent to which a bunch of humans thrown into this environment would cope. He has some fun with the idea of Daleks also adapting to this environment. Deliberately de-powering the Daleks and then showing them overcome this obstacle and still be extremely dangerous is a clever way to side-step the tendency for each Dalek story to need to up the stakes. It has been observed that Nation had a predilection towards survival stories in which man (mostly manly man) must overcome the environment and this definitely fits into that trend. However survival stories are actually a pretty good starting point for a Doctor Who story and beyond a certain humourlessness Nation's stories tend to be pretty watchable.

Since this is a Terry Nation story, there is a character called Tarrant. I was a little take aback when Tarrant turned out to be a woman, however.

The City of the Exxilons is a nice idea in concept, and is a good driver for the plot that takes place outside its walls, but it's internal puzzle-solving aspect is very poorly realised. Obviously portraying the idea that the city is a sequence of fiendish traps which no one in hundreds of years has successfully navigated, while at the same time making each trap or puzzle something that can be made readily understandable to the audience in under a minute is a big ask. But the ultimate effect is a feeling that the city's puzzles are frankly a bit rubbish. The money had probably run out by this point as well - the set design inside the city is noticeably inferior to that elsewhere. Even the Exxilon costumes (which teeter on the brink of failure) ultimately look good enough.

I want to like this story more than I do. It has some nice ideas, an at least moderately interesting cast of supporting characters, keeps events moving and is trying to do something novel with the Daleks. Somehow it all feels a bit by-the-numbers though. Possibly it is because of the familiarity of the sand pit, Sarah getting sacrificed, the running down tunnels and so on - all its interesting parts are very much slotted into the standard template of a Doctor Who story. Its a perfectly solid piece of second rank Doctor Who, but it had the potential to be something more yet never quite managed to gel and become more than the sum of its parts.

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