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Monday, June 21, 2010

Doctor Who - "Fear Her"

WHOSCALE: 6.5 out of 10

While this wasn't the best episode of Tennant's first season, it was a welcome return to relatively fundamental Doctor Who formula from the previous episode, "Love And Monsters," which flat out departed from the traditions of Doctor Who and practically executed itself as an episode from an entirely different series.

This episode was the last stand-alone story before the two-part finale of Tennant's first season. "Fear Her" was written by Matthew Graham, and like so many other writers of the revived series, Graham unfolds his story in accordance with the laws established by the original series.

The Doctor and Rose arrive on Earth in 2012 to watch the Olympics, only to discover that the suburban street they land in has recently been experiencing unexplained disappearances of the local children. The episode takes on the classic form of Doctor/companion investigative parts, where the TARDIS duo split up to follow separate leads. Rose befriends a tarmac worker, while The Doctor follows his more finely tuned Gallifreyan senses.

For the most part, the episode was good - most of the dialogue scenes were music-less, and when they did contain music, it was subtle. The music accompanying the first 30 to 40 minutes sounds dark and creepy, and goes well with whats happening on-screen.

The episode started to lose its classic appeal near the end, within the final 10 minutes, where we are once again forced through a dose of hero-worship for The Doctor. The final scene also once again caters to the fan girls, where Rose notes that "they keep trying to split us up...,"

However, the biggest kick I got out of this episode was the scene in the TARDIS when The Doctor utters, "I was a father once," and the look on Rose's face just says "WTF???!!!" Rose immediately replies with a "What did you say?!" I never was a fan of the Doctor/Rose relationship element, so anytime Rose got a reality check like this one was always music to my ears. The other one this season had to have been "School Reunion," where Rose discovered that she wasn't so special after all - she was in fact, the latest in a long line of companions come and gone.

The best dialogue for me had to have been when Rose consults Kel one last time about fixing the potholes, and Kel is once again boasting how well he filled a hole, yet others turned out lumpy. Rose shows her disinterest in it by replying, "Well, when you've worked it out, put it in a big book about tarmacking."

Worst dialogue of this episode had to have been moments after the spectators vanished, and the news anchor utters, "Can switch to you in the box, Bob? Bob? Oh no, not you too Bob!"

There were a couple of scenes that utilized reality TV shaky camera work, namely the one of Trish, The Doctor and Rose in the kitchen. I hate that kind of camera work, because it feels like the production team was in a rush to shoot the scene, so they don't bother with setting up tripods and other equipment - they just throw the cameraman onset toting a gargantous, cumbersome camera and shoot.

Overall, a decent episode - atleast it wasn't a Earth based episode where the baddies are bent on world domination. This time, the antagonist actually was reminiscent of Moffat's writing. It wasn't exactly evil in nature, it's just that it's actions made it appear so.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Doctor Who - "Love And Monsters"

WHOSCALE: 0.5 out of 10

The opinions surrounding the issue of whether or not this episode was a "good" episode or a "bad" one has been largely debated by the Doctor Who fanbase.

In my opinion, there was little to nothing in this episode that reflected a episode of Doctor Who. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I DO understand that this was a Doctor-lite episode. However, Davies seemed to look at this slot in the season as an opportunity to write whatever he wanted and disregard any fundamental guidelines or basic framwork to what makes an episode fit the Doctor Who classification. Watching this episode frequently felt like it was more of an episode of another series, considering that the story closely revolved around Elton's character.

Anyone can easily see that pulling off a great episode of Doctor Who that requires minimum screen time for the lead character - the Doctor - is a task to be reckoned with. Incidentally, in the following season, Steven Moffat managed to pull it off brilliantly with "Blink."

There's not much I can say positively about this episode. Even when the Doctor did have screen time, it was either a parody of Scooby Doo, or quite possibly the most annoying scene of Rose's time with the Doctor - Because poor, simple, Elton upset Jackie Tyler, that's reason enough for the TARDIS to make an emergency run to modern-day Earth and track Elton down, just so Rose can exit out of the TARDIS and jump on Elton's case about it. Forget the gigantic slobbery, blubbery Abzorbaloff thats standing over him; a minor relationship gone bad between Rose's bitchy, whiny mom and Elton is FAR more important in this scene that a monster that already absorbed every character in the story.

Davies seemed to use this episode once again as an attempt to give the newbies and fan girls something they could directly relate to - because like Elton, they obsessively find out as much as they can about new Doctor Who, and Tennant's Doctor.

The whole idea of making the Doctor some sort of legend was something I didn't approve of in the new series, but it was often the case in episodes like "Rose," "The Next Doctor," and of course "Love And Monsters."

Before I get into another ramble about why I disliked this episode so much, let me point out that the ONLY reason this episode scored the .5 is because it had the Doctor Who opening/closing sequences and the incidental music here and there sounded reminiscent of the classic series. That's where the similarities ended.

The idea of the monster actually wasn't that bad, with the exception of the farting noises and Davies' frequent comical approach to alien takeovers. I think had the story been written by someone who takes the idea of alien infiltration seriously - like Steven Moffat, and the episode been designated NOT a Doctor-lite episode, it probably would have been OK.

Definitly my least favorite of the new series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Satan Pit"

WHOSCALE: 4.5 out of 10

As with all of these reviews, I am writing this one only minutes after watching the episode so that as much of the Who-lights can be fresh on my mind as possible. Having watched "The Impossible Planet" a few days before this, I can honestly say that as far as traditional Doctor Who flavor goes, this one had grown a bit stale when compared to episode one of the two parter.

Although this episode was also penned by Matt Jones (who wrote the first part), this episode seemed to bluntly and frequently focus on the soap flavored Doctor/Rose love relationship theme, as opposed to the first part, which literally had only one scene - the one of The Doctor and Rose at the table. And even that scene lightly tapped the soap button - it was subtle enough that the scene didn't turn into something plucked out of One Tree Hill. However, in the case of "The Satan Pit," scenes were not only frequent, but long - complete with tears and "how can I leave him alone? Even if he IS dead?" dialogue.

In retrospect, the story for this episode seemed to start running thin, mainly due to much of the "Doctor Who" elements being taken care of in part one. There were numerous scenes that were practically dragged out to the point of The Doctor describing certain feelings using five to six different phrases that all meant the same thing. For example, when The Doctor and Ida are contemplating exploring the now-opened pit, The Doctor comments on a feeling in the back of his head - which he then states, "that _____ feeling," where each time he uses the phrase, a different adjective is placed in front of the word "feeling." Overall, that contemplation scene was drawn out, and in my opinion was an indication of the episode starting to falter and struggle to keep the storyline afloat. We don't need to sit through two minutes of The Doctor sounding like he's reading a thesaurus.

The anticipation building up before The Doctor drops into the pit was also a bit overdone. Well, VERY overdone. We first see The Doctor disconnect two straps, while he questions Ida about her religious beliefs. By this time, we're all eager to know what lies at the bottom of the pit, but we are forced into suspense one more time as The Doctor takes a rest from disconnecting his harness to express thoughts on beliefs. Of course at this point, he asks Ida to "Tell Rose..." *cut to Ida* *cut back to Doctor* "Tell her..." *cut to Ida* *cut back to Doctor* "oh, she knows..." at which point he finally releases his harness and falls into nothingness. That scene, like so many of the tear jerker scenes in this part, were accompanied by strong orchestral "Gone With The Wind" romantic music.

The other taste-killer for Who flavor in this episode was that a good portion of the beginning was used to resolve the cliffhanger from part one. Don't get me wrong, the resolution itself story-wise was fine, it's just that the music accompanying the scenes sounded like something out of a summer sci-fi flick.

I can understand why Davies may have chose to make ALL of the Ood deaths off-camera, because he was specifically targeting a younger audience, especially females. But to be frank, most Who fans have agreed that Davies under-estimated most childrens' ability to cope with Doctor Who's tendency to put us behind the sofa. It's a good bet that atleast 60 to 80 percent of the kids 8 and older that may have been watching this episode were probably aces at violent games such as Modern Warfare, Call Of Duty, Medal Of Honor, and Resident Evil. So it's likely that a few Ood getting shot on screen wouldn't have been much of a bother to them. Just a thought on that topic though. Classic Doctor Who often had scenes of people getting shot down as they ran away from their killers, such as "Resurrection of the Daleks" with Davison, where Litton's henchmen (the two coppers) shot down unarmed men in an alley.

The final big whammy for this one was the extensive one-sided conversation between the Doctor and the beast. Given the camera angle, lighting, and setting, it looked, felt, and played out more or less like a play on a theater stage, rather than an episode of Doctor Who. Here once again, the Doctor starts to smash one of the jars, only to drop the rock he was holding in order to drill into viewers' heads the cold hard truth of what will be the situation after he smashes them. Again, used here as nothing more than a crutch for suspense and drama, and yet again causing suffrage to the already thin and weak stability of the episode's story.

The most irrelevant, unnecessary, unrelated story element? The scene in the service shafts in which Rose comments on Danny's "unhappiness." You know which scene I'm talking about. Utterly ridiculous. What possible contribution did that make to the episode?

Without devoting this whole review to a rant about what detracted from a perfect score, let me touch base on the few qualities that earned the episode its 4.5.

Well, the coolest villain had to be the possessed Toby, with red eyes and writing covering his face and neck. I especially liked the scene where he breathes fire and Zack starts wigging out. Speaking of cool villains - ironically, the beast was voiced by Gabriel Woolf, who also voiced Sutekh in the 4th Doctor story, "Pyramids of Mars." There were a few scenes of dialogue here and there that were music-less, but they were rare.

Rose shows good TARDIS colors by taking initiative and pep-talking the others into not giving up, which eventually pays off - the service shaft escape route was good for the story.

This episode can be gold or garbage, depending on your point of view. For the Doctor/Rose relationship fans, it was probably a gift from Heaven. But when you set it aside the original series to see how closely it follows the fundamental themes, it leaves much to be desired. In the case of this review - which does exactly that - the episode of course, scores poorly.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Impossible Planet"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

Although this episode's score on the Whoscale isn't as high as "The Unquiet Dead" and "Tooth And Claw," it still remains one of my favorites from Tennant's first year. Perhaps the most contributing factor to this is the fact that this episode is the first of the revived series to utterly and completely leave Earth behind, with the only ties to our own planet being the humans inhabiting the base on the asteroid. The TARDIS can go anywhere, any when - so it we were well overdue an episode that was completely alien to the Earth-type settings.

Penned by Matt Jones, this was indeed a well-conceived story, and was so intricately detailed that it apparently required two parts. Jones does a great job with The Doctor's quirky dialogue, just as Gatiss did with "The Idiot's Lantern." Most notably in this episode when Jefferson asks The Doctor, "You telling me you don't know where you are?" At which point The Doctor cheerfully replies, "Nope. More fun that way!"

This is another one of those times when it's hard to determine who got the most space Justify Fullon the script page; when Jones sat down and pictured a handful of scientists studying a black hole (which for some reason, radiates an orange glow much like a sun), I'm not convinced that it was Jones' idea to design the base with such a gritty industrial cargo ship look to it. Additionally, like practically all of the future-set episodes of the Russell T. Davies era, the futuristic humans are for some bizarre reason still dressed in typical 21st century clothing.

The other biggest turn-off for the episode's classic Who appeal was the crashing orchestral music accompanying the scenes in which the base was violently rocked by quakes and atmospheric decompression when a possessed Toby breaks the glass from outside. The dialogue scenes were relatively music-less for the most part, and when music did accompany them, it was usually subtle enough that we weren't being forced into an emotional corner - we were free to feel what we wanted about the situation at hand.

There is of course, the scene of The Doctor and Rose sitting at a table gazing up at the black hole and discussing their future now that the TARDIS was presumed lost. Something I never liked about Davies' writing of The Doctor's character is that he often accepted defeat too easily - once it was revealed that the TARDIS had fallen into a deep chasm, we get the "it's gone forever" treatment. That particular element had the scent of Davies' script edit all over it. It's likely that Davies wrote in the TARDIS falling into the chasm in order to set the stage for the later scene with The Doctor and Rose at the table. Both instances - the TARDIS being lost and the table scene - were irrelevant to the "Impossible Planet" story, and were clearly the five to six minutes of the episode that the fan girls liked the most. When the "Doctor/Rose" moment is over, it's obvious that the episode then resumes it's course on Jones' track when Rose's cell rings and the beast in the pit is on the other end.

This episode also introduced us to the Ood, which almost immediately sparked caution, yet curiosity at the same time, due to their mysterious nature.

My favorite scene(s) in this episode was the taunting, and eventual possession of Toby by the beast. There was no music in those scenes to "force us" to be uneasy - the occasional voice calling his name and telling him not to look around, yet teasing him with "I can touch you" was more than enough to send chills to my bones.

For the most part, this was a great episode. The cliffhanger at the end was wonderful, and the final scene was nothing short of 100% classic Doctor Who - an evil voice is heard and as the "trap door" opens, the camera rises up from inside staring right at The Doctor and Ida - just as the "sting" of the closing theme sounds, and we are left wondering what could possibly be emerging from that dark pit. That particular moment is reminiscent of one of the parts of "Planet of Evil" with Tom Baker, where the episode ended just as an anti-matter beast emerged from a similar pit. Just as the Doctor fell in, the screen froze with him in mid-air, accompanied by the "sting."