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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Idiot's Lantern"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Many fans of the series have described "The Idiot's Lantern" as being one of the worst episodes of Tennant's first year. But more often than not, those same people are the fans who favor episodes drenched in Doctor/Rose relationship love plotlines, and more bombastic orchestral soundtracks to elevate those particular episodes to "epic" status.

However in the case of this episodes approximation to a format equivalent to that typical in the original series, the episode was fantastic, and it needed very little of the "Davies crutches" to achieve epic status. Of course this is not surprising for me, since it was written by Mark Gatiss, who wrote "The Unquiet Dead," which scored extremely high on the Whoscale.

Once again, the positives in this episode greatly outweighed the negatives. Everything seem to be spot on. The chemistry between The Doctor and Rose was not eliminated altogether, but it was minimized enough that the developing relationship between them didn't overstep the initial plot line. The incidental music in this episode was also used sparingly, usually only accompanying scenes with no dialogue. I especially liked the music during the scenes in which The Doctor was attempting to break into the warehouse where all of The Wire's victims were kept - it virtually sounded like something plucked out of Dudley Simpson's playlist. For those of you who don't know the name, Simpson was responsible for the incidental music on alot of Tom Baker's early episodes, and also provided all of the music for Terry Nation's "Blake's 7."

Yet another positive that significantly lent to the episode's 8 on the Whoscale was the pacing of the episode. The story was not rushed, nor was it so slow that we were falling asleep. The plot unfolded naturally and in true Doctor Who form - with the Doctor investigating and picking up clues and information here and there until 35 minutes in, he's about worked out what's going on.

Also, the setting was London, but not the kind of London that Davies usually writes. Like traditional classic Doctor Who episodes, we were confined to the streets and buildings of a small town, and not a bustling metropolis. Additionally, the alien takeover in this case wasn't the sky filled with millions of CGI ships, or the streets full of thousands of CGI aliens marching with nameless panicky people running and screaming. In fact, about the only CGI used was the electrical currents caused by The Wire.

There was some terrific dialogue in this episode from The Doctor that certainly reminded me of his past incarnations, such as during The Doctor and Rose's visit to the Connolly's house, Mr. Connolly apologizes for his wife speaking, and notes that "Rita does tend to rattle on," The Doctor then replies, "Well, maybe she should rattle on a bit more."

Clearly, for me the most chilling scene had to be when The Doctor activates all of the televisions in Magpie's store, and each of the screens contain nothing more than a face stolen by The Wire, each of them desperately calling out for help, but yet silent.

Overall, what made this episode so great for me is that the full length of the episode was devoted to the revelation and solution to the problem at hand, which was The Wire's unusual method of Earthly takeover. There were no side plots running parallel to the episode chief story that was completely Doctor Who unrelated, such as in "Father's Day," where the bulk of the episode was chiefly about Rose talking with her father, with the problem of correcting the time lines seemlingly just being put off until the last minute.

Rose is depicted in this episode as a companion more than a love-sick puppy for The Doctor, illustrated clearly by her no hestitation to be left behind by The Doctor as he chases after a fleeing car in his scooter, at which point Rose starts her own investigation, confronting Mr. Magpie at his store and refusing to leave until Magpie spills the beans.

I could find very little that I disliked about this episode. While watching it, to me it felt like I was watching a genuine episode of Doctor Who. However, the few things that did trouble were minor, but detracted from the episode receiving a perfect score nonetheless. One thing I wasn't too fond of was the use of "tilted" camera angles, in much the way classic Twilight Zone used tilted angles to add to the fear factor. No doubt they were used in this episode for the same reason, but also as homage to the period in which The Doctor and Rose were visiting - the 1950s. About the only other complaint I could find was the usual family domestic dispute that seemed to be the norm for an episode during the Russell T Davies era. Needless to say, both of these were minor and were kept to a minimum. So they didn't do too much damage. The one other momentary lapse was just after The Doctor discovers that Rose's face has been taken, at which point his dialogue and tone of voice would seem to depict him as more of a god - "no power on this Earth can stop me."

Once again, in my opinion a fantastic episode. For me it certainly had the flavor of traditional Doctor Who, all the way up to the scene in which The Doctor scales the transmission tower.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Age of Steel"

WHOSCALE: 4.5 out of 10

This episode concludes the two-part story that reintroduces the Cybermen to us.

It's difficult when I have to give episodes such low ratings on the Whoscale, because I don't feel like I'm giving enough credit to the ORIGINAL writers of the episodes. I think that the original draft of this episode, penned by Tom MacRae, may have been closer to the fundamentals of a typical Doctor Who episode. However, given Russell T. Davies' pop fangirl approach to a TV series intended to be 100% science fiction, drastic changes no doubt had to be made to MacRae's draft so that the episode would fit Davies' version of Doctor Who, and not Newman's.

This episode jumps in with both feet when it comes to poorly written solutions to plotlines. At the end of "Rise of the Cybermen," we were left hanging with the Doctor and company facing "maximum deletion" (if just "deletion" kills you on the spot, what does "maximum deletion" do?). Speaking of deletion, I should point out that the battle cry of Cybermen is something new, no doubt added so that kids that didn't know a classic series existed could associate a battle cry with the Cybermen in much the same way they were taught in "The Parting of the Ways" to associate "Exterminate!" with the Daleks. Getting back to the poor solutions, the predicament the Doctor is left with at the close of "Rise of the Cybermen" is solved by simply and suddenly making the power module for the TARDIS the Doctor has been toting around (why not leave it in the TARDIS?) double as a weapon that is effective against not just one, but multiple Cybermen - all the Doctor has to do is point the power module at a handful of Cybermen, and ta-da! Moore then rescues them via the "Scooby-Doo van."

Once again, the Davies seems hell-bent on capitalizing off of the "Rose getting to see her parents happy and successful together" theme. There are numerous momentary scenes in which Pete questions why Rose is staying so close to him, unaware that she is his counterpart's daughter. Granted, these make for excellent drama - but the initial plotline and backdrop of this two parter was the reintroduction of the Cybermen, so I fail to see why it was necessary to include the Tyler family AGAIN. Honestly, everytime the Doctor visited Earth, whether it be in another time or another dimension, Davies simply had to have the whole family woven into the plot somehow so that the drama would be heightened to the level of excessively annoying, and the soapy domestic drama would dominate the science fiction flavor of the episode. At this point, it would obvious which audience Davies was aiming the new series at, and it WASN'T the already massive and existent Doctor Who fanbase. No, Davies was aiming Doctor Who chiefly and the female audience; the same female audience that tunes in to shows such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "One Tree Hill." Davies cuts the intellectual, science fictional, and "geeky" elements out of an episode as much as possible so that the female audience, (whom for the majority don't have any interests in science fiction) will be at the front the couch tuning in.

Besides the episode's storyline revolving around Rose rather than having the The Doctor and Rose revolve around the storyline, Davies may have been responsible for the Doctor donning a James Bond tuxedo for a third of "Rise of the Cybermen" and the entire duration of this episode. Naturally, most females find men in tuxes attractive, and females find David Tennant in a tux EXTREMELY attractive, so that element was probably inserted merely to be eye candy for Davies' loyal followers. Again, the stability and flavor of traditional Doctor Who suffer the most, since the fundamentals of what makes an episode of Doctor Who great are tossed aside in this case just so the majority of the viewers will be NOT science fiction fans, but Tennant worshippers and soap fans.

Perhaps one of the most excessive things about the new Cybermen was the outlandishly loud stomping and swishing sounds as they marched down streets and alleys. Additionally, all of the Cybermen always were shown standing/marching with their fists balled up; I suppose the loud stomping sounds and balled up fists were there to make the Cybermen appear to be more of a menacing foe. Truthfully, great Cybermen stories don't need all of that to entertain us - "Revenge of the Cybermen" was terrific in my opinion, and depicted them as being much more clever and cunning than simple-minded and menacing, like the Cybus versions. Just a sign of the times - if you observe the scenes of the Cybermen's legs marching, you notice that their armor on their legs resembles that of modern-day pant styles known as "boot cut." That's not really an issue for me - the "Revenge of the Cybermen" versions actually had semi-bell bottoms.

The most annoyingly redundant thing I hated about this episode was that action overture that seemed to repeat itself for the ten minutes the Doctor, Rose and Pete were trying to escape from the burning factory. Murray Gold no doubt is a talented musical artist, but the blunt use of orchestrated music to accompany 90% of the episode isn't in the remotest way close to a classic episode. Classic Who was notoriously known for it's fully synthesized electronic music, something that help define what kind of entertainment it was. Orchestrated music puts Doctor Who more into the league of Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker than it does the Doctor Who league.

One other tidbit that was starting to get annoying was the never-failing scene of a some nameless news anchor frantically urging viewers to stay in their homes, as the camera view quickly changes to a close up of the news anchor's eyes on the TV screen, then to a full-face clip, then to a close up of his mouth, then another full face clip. Meanwhile, the camera itself shakes violently in true reality-TV format. Those types of scenes are there for one purpose and one purpose only: to boost the sense of urgency about the situation, because Davies' format of Doctor Who is incapable of casually explaining how urgent the situation is on it's own.

Finally, the farewell scene between Rose and Mickey had me borderline ready to say "Screw it, I've seen enough." How anyone can consider Rose their favorite companion is beyond me - she's whiny, irresponsible, selfish, unfaithful, and is the biggest crybaby I've ever seen. An episode seldom goes by where Rose doesn't shed atleast one tear. Ever since series one, she's been pushing Mickey further and further away because of her feelings for the Doctor, and not that reality slaps her in the face, and Mickey's fed up, she struggles to ask through a shower of tears, "what if I need you?" Answer: TOO BAD. Served her right for treating Mickey the way she had. Mickey is like any other guy who's been hurt; and like them, he isn't going to be a "fall-back" for Rose when she makes a pit-stop on modern-day Earth.

After the stretched out farewell scene, with more tears than there is water in the Thames, we get a epilogue scene between Jake and Mickey, who set out for Paris to eliminate other Cyber-factories.

My apologies to Tom MacRae, who I feel had a brilliant episode in mind when he submitted his first draft to Davies. A shame that a Doctor Who story with such potential had to be turned into this. In my opinion, the excessive RTD rewrites utterly killed the Doctor Who feel of this episode.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Doctor Who - "Rise of the Cybermen"

WHOSCALE: 5.5 out of 10

From the start of this episode, it appeared that we were going to be in for a real treat - the return (or in this case, rise) of the Cybermen.

However, this story had Russell T Davies' script edits oozing out at every opportunity. The writer of the episode, Tom Macrae, actually had a fantastic idea. It certainly isn't unWho-like for the TARDIS to accidentally or intentionally transverse between two of the 5th dimensions. Despite receiving alot of negative criticism from diehard classic fans, the creation of the Cybermen in this story is very similar to what Doctor Who lore tells us about the Cybermen from Mondas. The humanoids inhabiting Mondas had developed technologically so much that they eventually became the Cybermen we met in "The Tenth Planet." In "Rise of the Cybermen," the creation is set on a parallel Earth, where zeppelins fill the skies. John Lumic is a dying man with an extreme desire for immortality, which he hopes to obtain through the creation of the Cybermen. The TARDIS losing power due to it no longer being in the "right" dimension was also an good plot twist.

The biggest killer for this episode was Davies' never-ending attempt to drown science fiction out of the show so that even the thickest of viewers can watch it. Over the past decade, entertainment on TV has become more and more about the same thing - overacting, excessive drama, domestic issues, violence and sex. Viewers have become so accustomed to seeing this on TV, that they EXPECT to see it when something new comes along, sci-fi or not. In the case of this episode of Doctor Who, Davies opts to have then entire plot and story revolve around the Tyler family (again), or more specifically, Rose.

Everything about this episode was set so that we would be forced to see Rose's parents (again), see nameless panicky people running and screaming (again), and personal one on one chats between Rose and Pete or Rose and Jackie (again). What utterly pissed me off the most about this was the fact that Rose (who at this time was no more than the Doctor's companion) directly disobeyed TARDIS travel rules by using her phone to search for information on Pete Tyler, and then later disobeyed the Doctor's warning NOT to seek out or get involved with the Tyler family of this dimension. Under normal TARDIS houserules, that kind of bad behavior would get you booted off the TARDIS the instant the Doctor was able to leave the alternate dimension and return to his own.

There was such a transition between the tone of certain scenes, that you could almost tell which ones were chiefly Macrae's handywork and which ones were mostly Davies' changes or additions. For example, once it is established that Pete is alive in the alternate dimension, the plot then goes forward with a subplot running parallel to it - the subplot follows Rose while the main plotline follows the Cybermen element. The events and scenes of the Rose subplot are almost completely irrelevant to the Cybermen plotline, and thus become obvious that they are there simply to give the fangirls a reason to tune in. A good example would be two scenes near the end of the episode, where Rose first has a family chit-chat with Pete, and then moments later joins Jackie outside for an attempt at marriage counseling. At the risk of ticking off all of the Rose worshippers, she had be the most annoying character in this episode - and that's saying alot when you consider that it also had the bitchy, bossy, big-boobed diva Jackie Tyler in it, too.

I can't say for certain if it was Macrae's idea to set this episode in London (again), but if it weren't, you can bet it was Davies who changed the setting to metropolitan London. Davies had a knack for always somehow directly tying the Doctor's companion's family in with plots set on Earth, so that drama would get a substantial boost and opportunities for soap scenes could be created.

I feel like this episode would have been fantastic if say, Steven Moffat had been the Executive Producer - based on what I've seen in Series 5. When I get to my reviews of Series 5, I'll explain in more detail.

Once again, I'll sound like a broke record and point out the over-use of background music in this episode. The haunting theme accompanying Lumic's scenes wasn't too bad, but the thundering orchestral pieces as the Cybermen marched was a bit much.

One last thing I wanted to point out about this episode, which makes no sense at all from a LOGICAL perspective, but makes perfect sense from a DRAMA perspective. The scene in which the President of Great Britain is "deleted" by a Cyberman sparks panic among the guests who start running and screaming. Here's what doesn't make sense - the President was killed because he was deemed "incompatible" due to his refusal to be converted. However, the logic-minded Cybermen did NOT hear any of the other guests refuse, so why was their running and screaming grounds to start killing everyone? Doesn't make sense logically, but if consider that Davies wanted to maximize DRAMA and not SCI-FI, it makes perfect sense.

This episode ofcourse ends in a cliffhanger, with the Doctor and company attempting to surrender to a circle of Cybermen. The .5 on the Whoscale was given specifically for the ending, because to this day I think it is one of the best "cliffhanger endings" to a Doctor Who episode since the series was revived in 2005.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Girl In The Fireplace"


This was the next story we got from the mastermind Steven Moffat since "The Empty Child" two parter with Eccleston.

While Moffat maintained his reputation for keeping things explained, plausible, and generally science fiction in nature, the bulk of this episode was essentially a love story between The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour, which in turn was the largest contributing factor to the episode's Whoscale score.

I have openly admitted and am often accused of being partial to Steven Moffat's stories versus those penned by Russell T Davies, but in watching this episode just before writing this review, I tried to maintain my perspective from a classic Who standpoint, and set aside my favortism for Moffat. I certainly hated to give such a low score on a Moffat episode, but remember that the Whoscale indicates how closely the episode played out according to the standards set by the original series. That being the case, this episode was an unusual move for Moffat.

The episode is ofcourse, not without it's redeeming qualities. I suppose for me the most rewarding element was the fact that Moffat once again utterly and deliberately avoids a Doctor/Rose relationship altogether again, just as he did in "The Empty Child." In fact, given The Doctor's behavior around Rose throughout this episode, you would never know that Davies was pushing for a dominate soap opera/romance factor in the series. I've heard alot of complaints about this episode from fangirls of Tennant; not because of the usual Moffat twist on time travel that takes intelligence to understand, but the most frequent complaint I see and hear is that they disliked this episode because The Doctor had "an affair" with Madame de Pompadour, when he was supposed to be with Rose. Ofcourse, on the Doctor/Rose issue, I've always been on Mickey's side - the fangirls are so cold-hearted, vain and tranquilized by Tennant's looks and the prospect of a "happily ever-after ending" between The Doctor and Rose, that none of them ever stop to think about what Mickey's feelings are.

As I mentioned above, Moffat toys with two separate time periods, and additionally sets the future side of the episode on a ship two galaxies distant from Earth. That in itself was perhaps the most redeeming quality, since all of the episodes of Tennant's run had been set on Earth since "The Christmas Invasion." Additionally, Moffat is able to convey the fact that we are in 18th century Paris without having to show CGI scenes of Paris. Moffat has demonstrated a knack for writing stories that require close examination, and then re-examination in order for us to understand, and his tinkering with timelines often require us to sit at the edge of our seats with the volume up a little higher, so that we don't miss a beat - which is great. I have always admired how Moffat makes no attempt at all to "dumb down" his stories for the sake of the audience that aren't regular sci-fi fans, and would otherwise be left scratching their heads at the notion of a "window" in space-time allowing one to travel instantaneously between the past/future.

Moffat also introduces again in this episode what I call "passive villains." A passive villain by my definition is a villain in a Doctor Who story that essentially isn't violent or aggressive in nature, they've just become victims of circumstance (or in this case, programming) and that then leads them to behave so that they fall into a threatening category. To elaborate, the clockwork droids from the spaceship weren't aggressive, they were simply doing what they were programmed to do - repair the ship by any means necessary. Since their creators didn't anticipate a ship without a humanoid crew, they didn't bother to program the droids with skills and the possibility of setting a course for a repair yard or sending out a distress signal; that would be a job for one of the human crewmembers.
On a unrelated note, I wanted to comment on Mickey's tee shirt in this episode, which was partially covered by a jacket in "School Reunion." I knew that the image was an NES controller on his shirt, but I never knew what it said until I googled the shirt design and discovered that it reads, "Know your Roots." I'm very partial to the old NES and SNES systems, so naturally I liked the shirt.

The constant love-theme score that played throughout this episode (which was no doubt there to accompany the love-story themed story) was another determining factor.

Overall, it was a great episode, with some great moments. For me, the most chilling was when the Doctor discovers the droid under Renette's bed, and when he points his sonic screwdriver at it, it lashes out in an attempt to grab it. The Doctor leaps back, and then glances under the bed again, only to see the 18th-century shoes, feet and legs of someone standing on the other side of the bed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doctor Who - "School Reunion"

WHOSCALE: 4.5 out of 10

Despite this episode bringing back legendary characters from the original series in the form of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, it contained very little if any of the traditional Doctor Who elements established in the original series.

The distance at which this episode strayed from the classic Who history is one of the contributing factors to it's low score.

Since the the only plus bits were the reintroduction of Sarah Jane and K-9, I'll focus this review on the things about this episode that caused it to score so low on the "Whoscale."

First and foremost, the pre-title sequence and inital setting for this episode in my opinion was intentionally aimed at the fangirls - that being of a high school where their dreamy heartthrob Time Lord David Tennant is an instructor - I'm sure back in 2006 when this episode aired, every fangirl that was swooning over Tennant would have loved to have him as their teacher.

What really got irritating for me is how often we had to take a break from the crisis at hand for dramatic soap scenes between the Doctor and Sarah, Sarah and Rose, the Doctor and Rose, or Rose and Mickey. Doctor Who has always been straighforward with it's plot format. As an episode progressed, we learned more about the crisis, but we were never given a moment to breathe, because that's valuable time that could be contributed to an effective close to the story.

That's why Davies' "New Earth" and "Tooth and Claw" scored so high, despite his knack for writing episodes specficially aimed at fangirls and channel surfers - those two episodes were straightforward, through and through devoted to the solution of the crisis at hand.
However, like so many of the Doctor Who episodes of the Davies era, the "Doctor Who" plotline - the plan of the Krillitane - seemed to be a loosely woven "back burner" story that was sprinkled in so that the script could pass as an episode of Doctor Who. The REAL plot, as well as much of the episode, seemed to focus on the Doctor's companions....ALL of them. This was even evident with the episode's title, which seemed to reflect more of the characters involved in the episode rather than the Krillitane. Such discussions like Mickey's place in the Doctor/Rose/Mickey trio. And ofcourse, there was Rose's usual jealousey that another woman had travelled with her precious Doctor before - which Rose does say it best - "One more in a long line.."

Another mark of typical Davies-era Who was the misplaced bombastic, dramatic orchestrated music that accompanied the simple scenes of the students at their computers rapidly typing. It was obvious that the music in those scenes was there to act as a huge crutch for drama and the stability of the faster-paced new Doctor Who episodes; had it been in the 70s or 80s, the slower pace of the scene would have been natural, but in this case, to avoid the episode temporarily falling into a few seconds of slowed pace, Davies used pumped up music to keep the fangirls clutching their pillows.

Probably the biggest blow dealt to classic Whovians from this episode though, was the mis-representation of Sarah's relationship with the Doctor. It was made obvious by dialogue onscreen in this episode that Sarah felt the same about about the Doctor when she travelled with him as Rose does now. Ahem -- check your Time Lord history books, Davies. When Sarah hopped aboard the TARDIS in the 70s, the Doctor was in his 3rd incarnation, meaning Jon Pertwee was at the controls. Then at the end of "Planet of Spiders" and the beginning of "Robot," Tom Baker took over as the 4th Doctor. Sarah was written in the original series as being in her very early 20s, and even IF you assumed that the Doctor wasn't a 600+ old Time Lord at the time, he still didn't exactly meet the physical requirements for attracting young females' attentions and melting the hearts like Tennant obviously did. Additionally, there was never any hint of romantic affection between the Doctor and Sarah in the original series, so I can only conclude that this tidbit was inserted into the story so that the fangirls could more easily relate to a companion from the past - their thinking is, he's gorgeous and there's no way any companion could resist him, so Sarah must have obviously been in love with him, too. What Whithouse DOESN'T tell viewers in this episode though, is that this was Sarah's first time to see the 10th Doctor - she left the TARDIS when the 4th was still in his prime.

It amazed me that they went to such great lengths to ensure continuity between the original series and this episode but chose to make this one oversight. All Sarah's experiences she recounts were direct references to episodes of the Pertwee/Baker era, and then the inclusion of the Doctor specifying K-9 as "Mark III," which also follows the events of "K-9 and Company." I find it hard to believe that they would have gone to that length to ensure accuracy and never bother to examine the kind of relationship Sarah had with her Doctor(s). That's how I could only conclude that it was there for the fangirls.
Yet another irritating sequence we had to repeatedly endure throughout this episode was the occasional scenes of a Krillitane with its wings covering its face, and suddenly swooping them open and roaring at the camera. Maybe it was because they were entirely CGI and not all convincing, but to me, it felt like one of those moments when your best friend does something to try and scare the hell out of you but it doesn't even make you twitch - in fact, you just turn to him/her and say, "Nice try." I'm not even sure those Krillitane scenes were scary to kids watching.
One blooper I noticed when watching a moment ago was the during the scenes of Mickey sitting in the car with K-9, if you notice, K-9's sensor disc that normally is afixed to his "eyes" is missing.

Another HUGE plothole that perhaps someone may be able to fill for me, is throughout the episode, we know that the TARDIS was located INSIDE the school, which was blown up at the end (a companion saves the day....another mark of the Davies-era.) In the next scene, the TARDIS is seen sitting in a small courtyard. So how did the TARDIS get moved from a blown-up school to the courtyard?

Finally, Mickey elects to join the TARDIS crew, and Rose's love triangle finally gets thwarted, because now she can't flirt around with the Doctor like she could before. Thank goodness. Personally, I thought it was downright dirty what she did to Mickey - I've been in his shoes. We endure a few seconds of a disgruntled Rose and then a "Gone with the Wind" farewell scene between the Doctor and Sarah, and the TARDIS then dematerializes.

The final few seconds were great - the Doctor rebuilt K-9 (does this mean he's Mark IV?) and Sarah happily strolls away as the "sting" of the Doctor Who theme closes the episode. Certainly not the best episode of Tennant's first year.

Doctor Who - "Tooth And Claw"

WHOSCALE: 7.9 out of 10

The second official adventure for the tenth Doctor was written by Russel T Davies, and was titled "Tooth And Claw."

This episode certainly was one of the closest that Davies had come to paralleling the formula for a Doctor Who story established by the original series. Most of the negatives in this episode were not of the plotline itself, but of overdoses here and there of modernization. For example, the opening scene of the "ninja fight" was a bit unecessary, but I'm sure it was there to pump up the action for the iGens watching.

However, after the title sequence for the next 30 minutes, the pacing and style of the episode followed traditionalism. The Doctor once again undershoots 1979 by 100 years, arriving in 1879 Scotland. Exiting the TARDIS, the Doctor and Rose are met by travelling Queen Victoria, en route to the Torchwood Estate. A terrific display of classic Doctor Who is written here, where circumstances passively force the Doctor and Rose to leave the TARDIS in an open meadow, just off a beaten path.

Arriving at the Torchwood Estate, the pacing continued to follow that of classic Who, with most of the dialogue scenes music-less; particularly the scene at the front door of the estate, and then the conversation over supper at the table. Ofcourse, probably the most notable thing Davies wrote into this episode that follows typical classic Who standards is the temporary capture of the Doctor's companion, along with another house-maid she befriends while changing into more 19th century appropriate clothes.

I have often said that Doctor Who episodes like this work well in confined spaces - not to the degree of "Midnight," but the setting of this episode - entirely inside the Torchwood house - always makes for a terrific Doctor Who episode. This episode very loosely reminds me of "Image of Fendahl" from the Tom Baker era. I suppose this is due to the entire story being set inside the house, only this time it was a werewolf at the other end of the hall.

The biggest minuses this episode got from me was the overuse of bombastic, orchestrated music to accompany the action sequences while the Doctor & company were running from the werewolf. I'm not saying the sequence should be like the dialogue scenes - it just would have done more for the episode's review score if the music had been toned down a bit. The other minus is the ending scenes of the episode. The Doctor and Rose are seen hopping off a wagon and then strolling across the meadow back to the TARDIS, as they exchange final thoughts on the previous nights' events. The two enter the TARDIS, and it then dematerializes. That moment would have made a terrific time for the "sting" of the closing theme, but we are suddenly thrown back to the Torchwood Estate that night for a sort of "epilogue" of the story. Granted, the final scene with Queen Victoria was there to set up the story arc for this season - that being Torchwood.

Otherwise, a terrific episode. It certainly had the flavor of Doctor Who, and for once Davies was able to exercise restraint on his usual gay humor themes and soapy romance for the One Tree Hill fans & fangirls. This episode was 45 minutes of Doctor Who, focusing solely on the issue at hand.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Doctor Who - "New Earth"


New Earth marked the official start of the David Tennant years, and while The Christmas Invasion was a bit of a flop, this one held up much better than some of Davies' other episodes.

Everything about the initial plotline just seemed to fit right into the "Doctor Who" mold with this one - The Doctor & Rose travel to the distant future and for the first time we visit a planet other than Earth. The planet has been colonized by humans that abandoned the Earth we saw in "The End of the World." The Doctor explains to Rose that the human race travelled the universe in search of a new home, and came across this planet - appropriately named "New Earth," - which was very similar to old Earth in atmosphere, land mass, location from its sun, etc.

The episode's story unfolds extremely well. The TARDIS materializes on a grassy summit overlooking a bay and the nearby New New York. Ofcourse, Davies always makes the Who flow a bit bumpy with bits here and there of romance - illustrated in the beginning of this episode with Rose putting her arms through the Doctor's, and saying softly, "Can I just say.....travelling with you...." Later, the two of them are lying in the grass on the Doctor's coat.

However, in Davies' defense, we are soon introduced to our first problem in this episode in traditional Doctor Who format - we, the audience, are aware that something's afoot before the Doctor and Rose do. This refers to the scenes of Chip watching a monitor in a dark, gloomy room with images on the monitor of the Doctor and Rose enjoying their relaxtion on the summit. We are further shown that the video being fed to Chip's monitor is coming from one of the metal spiders first seen in "The End of the World" with the Ninth Doctor. By this point, most of us have already worked out atleast ONE of the issues in this episode - Cassandra is at it again.

The plot thickens when Rose asks the Doctor if they can visit New New York - "the city so great they named it twice" as Rose jokes - and the Doctor replies that instead they should check out a nearby hospital because of a message he receives on his psychic paper.

The hospital scenes were great, looking very futuristic and contained very little 21st century elements. The Sisters of Plentitude (the cat people) were extremely well done, and made up for 100% of the hospital's employees. For once, Davies did not have humans in 21st century scrubs running the place. This was a big plus, and helped contribute to the fact that we were on another planet, in another time, where things are done vastly different than what we are accustomed to here in the present. Additionally, the patient wards were not the traditional wall & rooms that we see today.

Another classic Who mark was the Doctor and his companion getting split up, allowing for two justified plots, but both of those plots contributing to the overall story. Rose misses the lift and is forced to take a different one - Cassandra arranges for Rose to be brought to the hospital's basement via the lift while the Doctor continues on up to Ward 26. Rose steps off the lift and is greeted by a timid Chip, who calls her by full name - Rose Tyler. Chip then leads the way to Cassandra's chamber, where we are then introduced to another threat - Cassandra explains that the Sisters of Plentitude are hiding a dark secret at the hospital, then transfers her conciousness to Rose's body.

The plot thickens yet even more when the Doctor discovers a patient that only moments earlier was infected with a terminal illness has made a full recovery. Rose/Cassandra rejoins the Doctor in Ward 26, and the Doctor instantly takes notice of Rose's unusual behavior, being that Cassandra is trying her best to "be Rose."

The duo discover a hidden passageway leading to the hospital's underground, where the truth of the hospital's secret is revealed - thousands of pods containing infected artifically grown humans are present. Set up to be one gigantic laboratory, the Sisters of Solitude use them to engineer cures of all known diseases and illnesses.

Cassandra reveals herself to the Doctor, and inadvertently releases all of the infected humans. The tone of the episode becomes something out of Resident Evil with zombie-like humans on the march infecting anyone they touch. The hospital is quarantined from the outside, trapping everyone inside.

However, Davies cleverly concludes this plot with the Doctor filling a disinfection tank placed on top of the lifts with all of the IV fluids from the Wards. He then lures the infected humans into the lift, where they are spray with the disinfectant and thus cured.

The last loose end is tied up, with the Doctor and the Face of Boe exhanging a few words.

Overall this episode stayed within the confines of Doctor Who standards fairly reasonably - even with the music. It's rare that Davies wrote episodes that were strictly about something Who.