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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Lazarus Experiment"

WHOSCALE: 4.5 out of 10

After four consecutive episodes that were not set on present-day Earth, I knew it was only a matter of time before we were back in London.

Stephen Greenhorn had a terrific idea for a Doctor Who episode, but I think it was Russell T. Davies' direction that lopped off this episode's traditional Who head.

A quote from wikipedia's article on this episode even states:

"Executive producer Russell T Davies has stated that he directed writer Stephen Greenhorn to base this episode on the typical Marvel Comics plotline: "a good old mad scientist, with an experiment gone wrong, and an outrageous supervillain on the loose."

In retrospect, that's all this episode was. Some fans have even compared the episode to such Marvel adventures as Spiderman and X-Men. The plotline of the episode follows the typical pattern of a comic book caper. Naturally, with Davies' hands so deep in the script, the monster downright HAS to be a giant, slobbering CGI animation.

There were several scenes in this episode that were utterly ridiculous, and it was obvious that they were there to achieve "cheap gasps" from the viewers. Such as the scene in which a mutated Lazarus bears down on a female party guest, and as he lumbers over her roaring, the guest simply stands there screaming - which moments later leads to her demise. Meanwhile all the other slightly more intelligent guest are running and screaming for the doors, in total chaotic panic - another typical Davies mark.

Ofcourse, for the ladies watching, Tennant once again dons his "James Bond" tux, something else I didn't approve of in the new series - The first seven incarnations seldom changed their appearance simply because they were attending a black tie affair. But in order for the fan girls to get their jollies so that they would continue to tune in, Davies goes 007 on us again.

This episode also repeats the same complaint I had with Rose's tenure in the TARDIS - anytime there was trouble afoot on modern-day Earth (whether it be our dimension or another, or both), Rose's parents were ALWAYS somehow involved. In the case of "The Lazarus Experiment," Martha's sister, Tish, is working for Lazarus as head of the PR Department. Additionally, the rest of Martha's family shows up, there to voice their disapproval of the Doctor and to frequently asks, "WHO is he?" or "WHO is that man?" Davies goes a bit overboard when being playful with the title of the series and character dialogue. The "Doctor who?" gag works, but only in certain situations, and only when it isn't used regularly.

Granted, much of Pertwee's era was set on modern day Earth, but we didn't have to deal with domestic disputes because Liz Shaw's parents were always tagging along, or because Jo Grant's family and friends always seemed to be right in the middle of something they couldn't possibly have anything to do with. In reference to "The Lazarus Experiment," its obvious at these times that Davies tosses these characters into the mix for the sole purpose of stimulating the drama. This is what I like to call "forced drama," or "simulated drama." The reason being that the viewer isn't free to feel what they would naturally feel when presented with the crisis - we are bombarded with over-dramatic scenes that back us into a corner, forcing us to feel a certain way.

The same was true for the music in this episode. Once again, almost a continuous score played throughout the entire length of the episode, save for the cathedral scene where The Doctor confronts Lazarus for the first time.

Finally, one of the biggest kickers for this would-be great episode was that the pacing of the episode was way too fast. I'm sure this was so that the episode would mimic the comic book superhero format that it was attempting to impersonate, but Doctor Who works best when its stories are filled with mystery, and unfold slowly but steadily. When watching this episode, it just felt like the development of the story was always rushed from one scene to the next - for every five minutes of dialogue, we spent another ten running, screaming, and rushing off to the next phase.

I think what Greenhorn had in mind originally would have been terrific, had Davies exercised a bit more restraint. Greenhorn would later go on to write an episode for Series 4, titled "The Doctor's Daughter," which in my opinion was certainly closer to the Who formula than this one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doctor Who - "Evolution of the Daleks"

WHOSCALE: 7.5 out of 10

First of all, I want to give thanks to Helen Raynor - or whomever made the decision on the title of this episode. It shows a tremendous nod to the traditions of Doctor Who when a Dalek story is titled in the form of "____ of the Daleks." (i.e. Genesis of the Daleks, Destiny of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, etc.)

Once again, Raynor does a fantastic job of writing a Dalek story that unfolds steadily, that isn't too slow, but isn't rushed at the same time. Immediately following the title sequence, the incidental music is silent as we pick up where we left off at the close of "Daleks In Manhattan." The Doctor reveals himself, and confronts the Daleks. After a blast from his sonic screwdriver to a small radio, The Doctor, Martha, Frank, Laszlo, and Tallulah escape to the sewers. Not long after returning to Hooverville, the Daleks' pig slaves show up, as well as two flying Daleks. The Daleks launch an attack on Hooverville, kill Solomon, and following Dalek Sec's order, persuade the Doctor to return to their hideout beneath the Empire State Building.

I couldn't find much to complain about in this episode, because the writing, plot, and progression of the episode was virtually spot-on. Perhaps the thing I disliked the most about it was once again we had Murray Gold's orchestral and choral pieces blasting through much of the episode - particularly during scenes in which the Daleks were on the move, and the accompanying chorus was almost intended to frighten us into seeing the Daleks as more of a menace than they already were. Additionally, the chorus seemed to convey that "hey, these guys are f#%ing POWERFUL, so don't mess with them" kind of mood - in much the same way "Duel of the Fates" did with Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. That being the case, what I often say becomes clear; the television series starts to feel more like a motion picture than an episode of Doctor Who. Granted, Doctor Who is meant to be epic, but it has a reputation for achieving epic status through the writing of it's stories, and not spectacular CGI special effects and bombastic orchestrated soundtracks.

Another minus in this episode was the conflict of spaces. According to events that had transpired up to the point the Doctor re-entered the basement, we were lead to believe that the basement was the floor directly beneath the FIRST FLOOR of the Empire State Building. However, in a later scene Dalek Sec flips a switch on the wall, and illuminates an entire CGI room full of soon-to-be human Daleks. The room is atleast a hundred feet high, and stretches so far into the distance that we can't see the far wall. So how was all this packed into a single basement floor? I have no idea.

Other than that, I was overall satisfied with the episode. Raynor successfully wrote a Dalek story that wasn't rushed, and was an extremely thought out plotline. Unlike Davies - who tends to "destroy things forever" at every given opportunity, only to have the return the following season - Raynor leaves room for future encounters with the Daleks. As The Doctor attempts to offer Dalek Caan help, Caan emergency temporal shifts again, thus escaping. The Doctor later answers Martha's question about whether or not he will see them again with "Oh yes.......someday."

Great episode, and it was becoming more and more apparent that about the only way we could get a decent dose of Doctor Who was when Davies didn't pen it, since he insisted on either linking today with the future, or vice versa in his scripts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Doctor Who - "Daleks In Manhattan"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

After our routine dose of Davies' writing, it was time to get back to some relatively straightforward Doctor Who.

Helen Raynor becomes the first female to contribute a story to the revived series, as well as the first female to write a Dalek story in the entire history of Doctor Who.

Naturally, we all know that no one can top the masterpieces of Terry Nation, but I have to say that "Daleks In Manhattan" was the best Doctor Who-flavored Dalek episode we had got since its revival. Rob Shearman did a decent job with "Dalek" during Eccleston's year, all other Dalek stories up to this point had been penned by Davies, and usually consisted of the same plotline - an army of Daleks hell-bent on Earth's conquest.

Raynor deviates drastically from the Davies formula in this episode and follows the format that usually works best for Dalek or Cybermen stories, which places them in a peaceful day in, day out setting in the shadows, as underdogs. In those shadows, the Daleks are up to yet another one of their schemes, but this time it isn't to conquer Earth. This time, the Daleks are more concerned with perpetuating their own species, and dodging absolute extinction.

The story develops well, with The Doctor and Martha intending to visit 1930s New York merely for an observatory excursion, but minutes after they arrive the TARDIS duo discover that a mystery is afoot in Manhattan, setting the stage for The Doctor's usual "investigation to see what's REALLY going on."

Raynor cleverly writes a plotline that reflects the nature of the Daleks flawlessly; the remaining Daleks are all that remains of the Cult of Skaro (wait, didn't they get sucked into the void in last season's finale? Nice one, Davies. Stop killing off ALL of the Daleks when you write a story - leave some room for someone else to maybe write a GOOD Dalek story.) In Davies' defense though, Dalek Sekh was seen emergency temporal shifting near the end of "Doomsday," but how Caan and Thay survived the galactic vacuum in "Doomsday" is beyond me. I'm getting sidetracked - Raynor completely dismisses the notion of world domination, apart from Mr. Diagoras' ambitions of being ruler of New York. The Daleks - having been reduced to now only four, and fearing extinction, launch an experiment to merge a human being with a Dalek, thus creating a "human Dalek." This would then restore their bi-ped mobility as they once were on Skaro - when they were "Kaleds." The plot makes perfect sense, and to me was just the kind of scheme the Daleks would be up to. When I say "up to something," I'm referring to stories such as "Destiny of the Daleks," where the Daleks were mysteriously drilling into the abandoned Kaled bunker. We later discover in that story that the Daleks had reached an empass in their war against the android Movellans, and so they set out to dig up their creator - Davros - so that he could develop a solution to sway the war in favor of the Daleks.

In retrospect, the Daleks usually have a logical motive for their schemes, and although it may be loosely related to their conquest of the universe, I never understood why Davies insisted on always having the Daleks hell bent on conquering EARTH. There are dozens of other planets out there, but from Davies desk, the Daleks were only interested in Earth. That's why I favored this episode so much, because Raynor took the time to develop a logical, plausible explanation for the Daleks being in Manhattan. Even their location underneath the Empire State Building is explained - the Daleks have forseen a lightening strike to the building's steeple, and so they direct humans to modify the steeple with Dalek components so that when the lightening strikes, the power will be transmitted underground where they are preparing to convert captured humans into human Daleks, thus reviving their race.

There is one scene that I feel like is worth mentioning. In the sewers, where The Doctor snatches Tallulah out of the corridor and into an alcove, while covering her mouth, and a Dalek creeps by is almost identical to a scene in "Genesis of the Daleks," where the 4th Doctor grabs Bettan and they watch a Dalek creep by from an alcove.

The Doctor also logically identifies what he's up against - after finding a mutant in the sewers, he uses 1930s technology to build a make-shift DNA scanner, and after discovering the mutant's planet of origin code, utters "Skaro!"

What made this episode even more of a Doctor Who treat was that it was the first of a two-parter, and the episode ends in the traditional cliffhanger, accompanied by the theme music's "sting."

The only complaint I had with this episode was the background music, which seem to flow continuously throughout the length of the episode, making it seem more like a motion picture than an episode of Doctor Who. The 1930s era incidentals was fine, since naturally the Doctor and Martha were visiting that time period.

A great episode, and still my favorite Dalek story of the Tennant years.

Doctor Who - "Gridlock"

WHOSCALE: 4 out of 10

After two consecutive episodes that were favorable to the original series, I knew it was only a matter of time before Davies had to let loose and write yet another story butchered by modern society and seasoned with modern day elements.

This came in the form of the third episode of Series 3, titled "Gridlock" and penned by none other than Russell T. Davies. Relatively speaking, and in my opinion, this was Davies' botched attempt to write an episode containing one of the classic monsters - the Macra. (see "The Macra Terror")

Unfortunately, "Gridlock" seldom focuses on the threat of Macra, and devotes most of its time to ridiculous tear jerking drama. Right from the beginning, Davies' usual blend of setting a story in the far-flung future but containing people, behavior, and problems of today is evident; The Doctor and Martha arrive in New New York, where the first Series 2 episode was set, "New Earth." Davies introduces us to the darker side of New New York this time by setting the scene in a shady alley, where pushy pharmacists are eager to sell forget, happy, bliss, and so on "patches."

Martha is kidnapped by a couple wearing 21st century clothing - namely Milo's (the male kidnapper) graphic tee that looks like it was bought at American Eagle. Davies further introduces bizarre characters into the story by having the transports in the gridlock contain people such as the Mr. and Mrs. from American Gothic, two Japanese chics who dig anime styles, an old female gay married couple, a nudist couple (COME ON!!! NAKED CHICS?? IN DOCTOR WHO?? REALLY RUSSELL??! SHAME ON YOU!!!), a white alien who is xenophobic, a red alien, and lastly, a young lad sporting a suit and bowler.

Davies invokes further teary moments by having the gridlocked motorist sing "The Old Rugged Cross," in full.

About the only two plausible characters in the story were Thomas Kincade Brannigan, whom the Doctor gets associated with, The Face of Boe, and ofcourse Novice Hame of the Sisters of Plentitude. Hame catches up to the Doctor just after he discovers that he's up against the Macra (by peering through the bottom of the bowler wearing man's transport no less) and teleports him and herself to the Senate, where the Face of Boe awaits. The Doctor is able to restore power to the motorway and open the top allowing the motorists to escape into the open, and also hears The Face of Boe's final message before he dies - "You are not alone."

The episode closes with yet another hymn being sung in the background, and the Doctor telling Martha about his tragic history concerning Gallifrey and the Time Lords. In this case, the Macra are not even taken care of, so evidently they are still at the bottom of the motorway.

There were other ridiculous inconsistencies that Davies wrote into this episode to make it more appealing to a less intelligent audience, or as one YouTuber describes them, "the masses." There is one scene in which the Doctor opens the side door of Brannigan's car, and another car pulls up alongside - although the cars are hovering, the screeching of tires can be heard as the car stops. Throughout the course of the episode, and frequently during CGI scenes of the gridlock, car horns are sounding off - which sound like a modern day New York traffic jam. More to the point, some of the motorists had been sitting there for years...who the hell is going to keep honking their horn for that length of time??!

Overall, not one of Davies' better stories as far as Doctor Who is concerned. So much for bringing the Macra back in a great episode.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Shakespeare Code"

WHOSCALE: 8.9 out of 10

The second episode of Series 3 was titled "The Shakespeare Code," (in reference to The DaVinci Code) and was penned by Gareth Roberts.

For Martha's first trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes her to the past to the year 1599 A.D., just as the Globe Theatre has been completed and Shakespeare is putting on "Love's Labours Lost."

The episode opens with a young man being attacked by witches, and its only a matter of time before trouble is afoot; The Doctor and Martha originally intend to stay only to see "Love's Labours Lost," but soon decide to stay longer when Shakespeare, after being cheered onto stage, announces that the following night he will debut a sequel, titled "Love's Labours Won."

The story unfolded quite well, in much the same way "The Unquiet Dead" did with the Ninth Doctor. The majority of the dialogue scenes were music-less, and when music was present, it was subtle enough that it didn't become a distraction. Furthermore, the entire length of the episode from start to finish was devoted to the problem at hand, with no side plots.

This episode also offered some great dialogue between The Doctor and Martha, such as when the Doctor attempts to explain how the future is in flux, and references "Back To The Future." Martha asked, "The film?" A smart-alec Doctor responds with, "No, the novelization. Yes, the film!"

I could find very little to complain about in this story, but if I had to point out one thing, it was the fact that Shakespeare was depicted as too much of a modern-aged man.

However, in spite of that minor drawback, the episode was well-executed and well produced, and certainly had the flavor of Doctor Who to me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Doctor Who - "Smith And Jones"

WHOSCALE: 8.5 out of 10

Russell T. Davies kicked off Series 3 of the revived Doctor Who with "Smith And Jones," and introduced us to the Doctor's new companion, Martha Jones.

Davies did a fantastic job in this episode of playing on some of our more obvious fears, such as blood-sucking vampires, unusual weather phenomena, and of course, strange aliens.

The Doctor once again assumes his usual alias "John Smith" so that he can become a patient at the hospital at which Martha works. The Doctor is investigating strange readings around the building, unbeknownst that they are actually the work of the Judoon.

Davies for once doesn't use the non-humanoid aliens as the chief menace, and instead embodies the real threat in human form, as Ms. Finnegan.

The episode begins with the normal goings on of a hospital, with Martha and fellow students examining patients. During some of these scenes, thunder can be heard rumbling outside, doing a great job of giving us a sense of false security because its one of those "early morning storms while I'm at work, but were all safe and cozy in here." Moments later, rain starts to fall, but things get a bit creepy when Martha realizes that the rain is falling UP, followed by violent flashes of light and tremors. Martha recovers and soon discovers that the darkness that has suddenly appeared outside is not night, but in fact the lack of atmosphere on the Moon.

Martha shows remarkable intelligence and courage during a crisis, immediately grabbing my attention and proving that she would make a terrific companion. The Doctor and Martha team up (hence the title, "Smith and Jones" - probably a pun on the 1980s western "Alias Smith and Jones") and use logic to work out whats happening. Martha inadvertently stumbles into a room where Ms. Finnegan - revealed to be a Plasmavore - has killed Mr. Stoker, the chief Doctor at the hospital.

The episode's plot follows a seamless logical order, and every event in the episode is explained logically - something that often wasn't present in a typical Davies story.

The Judoon, who are described as police mercenaries for hire, have no jurisdiction over Earth due to articles of the Shadow Proclamation, and thus to complete their task of finding the Plasmavore, they elect to transport the entire hospital to the surface of the Moon, which is neutral territory.

Davies demonstrates further logic in this episode by writing an extremely clever villain, who intended to avoid capture at all costs. Plasmavores assimilate the blood of their victims, and thus appear to be whatever species they last feasted on to any type of scan. Finnegan kills Stoker in order to change her DNA appearance to humanoid, thus disguising her true species type and allowing her to be cataloged as "human" by the Judoon.

Davies then writes a terrific solution to the problem, one in which solely involves the Doctor himself - the Doctor allows himself to be captured, and later attacked by Finnegan, thus changing her DNA appearance to Gallifreyan. Although it isn't her true species type, it does register as non-human to the Judoon. The Judoon eliminate Finnegan, and with their mission accomplished, return to their ships to leave the Moon. The Doctor, after being revived by Martha, saves the hospital from destruction mere seconds before the oxygen runs out and the Judoon successfully return the hospital to its proper place on Earth.

What really won me over with this episode was how well written it was, and how Davies intentionally had The Doctor and Martha working together as a team from the very beginning. The episode also used minimal music, which certainly added to the uneasiness of the scenes in which the subtle rumbles of thunder could be heard outside at the beginning of the episode. The Judoon were fantastic as well. Although they appeared menacing, their intentions were benign, and they weren't CGI.

The best dialogue in this episode for me is moments after the Doctor expels radiation through his foot, and removes one of his shoes and tosses it into a bin, Martha stares on and says, "You are completely mad." The Doctor stares back and replies, "You're right. I look daft with only one shoe," at which point he removes the other and says, "Barefoot on the Moon!"

Terrific episode, and certainly some of Davies better attempts at a true-bred Doctor Who story.

Doctor Who - "The Runaway Bride"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

In the final moments of "Doomsday," a woman wearing a wedding dress mysteriously appears in the TARDIS console room, to the Doctor's bewilderment, setting the stage for the second Christmas special since the series was resurrected in 2005.

"The Runaway Bride" was penned by Russell T. Davies, and was in my opinion much more focused on being an episode of Doctor Who than a treat for Christmas. Davies took the time to explain things more carefully in this episode, and the explanations made sense.

Probably the best thing about this episode was the introduction of future companion Donna Noble, portrayed by Catherine Tate. Although Donna would not join the Doctor until the start of Series 4, I could tell just from the chemistry between the two of them in this episode that she would make a great companion.

Some great dialogue in this episode, namely Donna continuing to call the Doctor "martian boy," at which point The Doctor reciprocated with "I'm not from Mars."

The entire length of the episode focused on the unraveling of the mystery surrounding Donna.

Although Davies seldom strayed from writing episodes that were set on Earth, this one actually worked rather well.

The biggest drawback for "The Runaway Bride" was the borderline continous music that seemed to play throughout the majority of the episode. It was almost like trying to listen to an orchestral soundtrack and watch an episode of Doctor Who at the same time, which sometimes made it difficult to understand what was being spoken.

My favorite scene is above the rooftop with the Doctor and Donna are gazing across London, with only the sound of the wind whooshing by. No music accompanied that scene, so we were able to concentrate on the Doctor's attempts to unravel the mystery. Speaking of, allowed for another great moment - the Doctor scans Donna with his sonic screwdriver commenting that she isn't important, clever, etc. Donna replies with, "This friend of yours - she didn't by chance punch you in the face just before leaving did she?" (referring to Rose.)

The final farewell scene was drawn out a bit, I thought. But overall the episode did quite well. A welcome improvement from the previous episode.

Doctor Who - "Doomsday"

WHOSCALE: 5.5 out of 10

This episode marks the end of David Tennant's first season as The Doctor, and also sees the departure of Rose, who has been travelling with The Doctor since the end of "Rose" with the Ninth Doctor.

"Doomsday" was also penned by Russell T. Davies, and was the concluding part to "Army of Ghosts."

Once again, Davies devotes large portions of screen and script time to story elements that were completely unrelated to the crisis at hand. At the close of "Army of Ghosts," we saw that our troubles had become two-fold; not only did we have an army of Cybermen on the loose, but the sphere opened and revealed to contain the remainder of the Dalek order known as the Cult of Skaro. Mickey and Rose are trapped downstairs with the Daleks, while Jackie and The Doctor are held captive by the Cybermen high in the Torchwood tower.

The overall reason for this episode scoring as low as it did is mainly a reflection of Davies' typical attempt to write to simultaneous plotlines and cram them both into a single episode of Doctor Who. In the case of "Doomsday," we were not only dealing with the Cybermen/Dalek war being waged in the streets of London, but also the domestic and combatibility problems surrounding Jackie Tyler of our universe, and Pete Tyler of the parallel universe from "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel." Near the end of this episode, things begin to look dark and bleak for Doctor/Rose fangirls, because the Doctor devises a plan to save the two universes, but requires Rose to be on the parallel side prior to the void being opened. Once closed, she would never be able to see him again. The Doctor does this with little regard for Rose's feelings. This episode showed the peak of just how selfish Rose could be, and how well The Doctor looks at the big picture. While The Doctor was openly ready to sacrifice his companionship with Rose in order to save two universes, Rose continually disregards the safety of others for the sake of her beloved Doctor, namely the final scene in which the Doctor explains that both universes would collapse, and Rose replies, "So?"

The episode would have scored much higher on the Whoscale if Davies would have focused the entire episode on the crisis at hand, but it was obvious by now that Davies was intending the series to be chiefly watched by little girls in their early teens who were hooked on the kind of drama offered by Twilight.

In my opinion, the episode was about 55% Doctor Who.