Popular Posts

Friday, December 30, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Eleventh Hour"

WHOSCALE: 7.5 out of 10

This was perhaps the most anticipated episode for me since the revival of the series in 2005. It was a whole new start in so many ways, and I had been following production of the series closely. The internet was swamped with rumors of a new title sequence, a new version of the theme music, and one claiming that Moffat was planning to return Doctor Who to it's roots with Series 5/Season 31.

Since this episode opens the Steven Moffat era, I must point out in this review how quickly Moffat communicated the differences between the direction he was going, and what Davies had done the last five years. As always, I will also be reviewing this episode's approximation to classic Doctor Who, which will probably be the most difficult part from here on out for me - I'm partial to Moffat.

I'll begin by covering what I saw as a sign of things to come the first time watching this episode. The title theme had been revamped, but I was a little disappointed that (Murray) Gold had again chosen to orchestrate the majority of the theme. Also, the original bassline is all but completely drowned out by Gold's "chase" percussion. The main melody sounded good though, echoing back to the days of a synthesized theme.

Remember that "The Eleventh Hour" was to Moffat as "Rose" was to Russell T Davies. Both were their opening stories, and established the kind of show Doctor Who would be in future.

Ok, here are the comparions to show that Moffat intentionally wrote his opener to be a complete departure from what Davies wrote five years earlier:

SETTING: A recurring setting in the original series (probably due to budget constraints) was small, country side English villages. Virtually all of the Earth-based stories set in modern times during the RTD era were set in either metropolitan Cardiff or downtown London. This includes his series opener, "Rose." Moffat hits a home run by setting "The Eleventh Hour" in the small, rural village of Leadworth.

CHARACTER EMPHASIS: This is probably the most obvious opposite of the two openers. Davies titled his opener after the companion, whereas Moffat titled his after The Doctor. Moffat again wins on this level, because the show IS called Doctor Who, and as such revolves chiefly around the adventures of the lead character, The Doctor. Davies deliberately wrote his opener from the viewpoint of the companion, and as a result she frequently became the front runner of the show, over shadowing The Doctor. Although the emphasis on The Doctor in this episode doesn't equal that of the emphasis on Rose, the emphasis in this one IS generally balanced between The Doctor and Amy Pond, and is able to cover introducing Amy, the new Doctor, and the problem at hand quite evenly.

CLASSIC VILLAIN/NEW VILLAIN: This was one of the complaints voiced frequently by old fans about the new series. Davies opened with a very minor scrape with some Autons (which they were never even called), whereas Moffat chose to introduce us to a new villain, and a mystery to go with it. Prisoner Zero escaped into our dimension via a crack in Amy's wall. The crack is revealed to be a fissure in the fabric of space and time. Now, The Master was introduced on the backdrop of an Auton invasion in the Third Doctor's first story, "Spearhead from Space," but at that time, it was our first encounter with Autons. So once again, Moffat scores a 1-up against his predecessor.

DOMESTIC APPROACH: If you've read any of my previous reviews, you know what I'm talking about. Davies immediately introduced us to a wide range of companion family members to keep us coming back to Earth on a regular basis. It is my belief that Moffat saw this, and wanted to write a companion that had no ties here on modern Earth, leaving the field open for the duo to go anywhere, any when, for any length of time. Moffat established IMMEDIATELY in the opening scenes that Amy had no family except an Aunt, which was never even shown on screen. Ten minutes into "Rose," we had already had an unfortunate encounter with Jackie Tyler. With Moffat leaving out the domestic approach, he scores yet again.

THE DOCTOR'S COSTUME: Okay, look at all of the previous eight Doctors, and you will immediately notice that their costumes were all quirky, and seldom ever blended in with any time period he visited. Both Eccleston's and Tennant's Doctors were dressed in modern costumes, with Tennant at the forefront in his suit and tie. Moffat scores big again by returning The Doctor's curious sense of style - a tweed jacket, a button up shirt, braces, black rolled up trousers, black boots, and of course, the red bow tie. Bow ties are cool. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Moffat establishes here that this Doctor would not be eye candy for fan girls, but the lovable Doctor we could immediately connect with due to an item of clothing - a black suit, an oversized coat, velvet magician garb, a multi-colored scarf, celery and cricket, a quilt of a coat, and a question mark umbrella or in this case, a bow tie.

TARDIS APPEARANCE: Although I had no complaints about the appearance of the Davies era TARDIS, I definitely was pleased to see Moffat returning the design to the First Doctor style - white framed windows and the St. John's Ambulance sticker. The interior is much more fairy-tale looking though. I'm partial to the white walled Fourth Doctor console room. I did notice that the ceiling right above the console is the same disc pattern that the First Doctor's console had above it. I gave Moffat a few points for bringing back the old exterior, but it never was an issue for me, as I was just as pleased with the RTD outward appearance. So this one is a tie.

COMPANIONS: Granted, Moffat took a completely different approach to introducing The Doctor to Amy, but in the end, we ended up with more or less the same thing we had by the end of "Rose." A modern day female with a goofy, portrayed as idiotic boyfriend who stays behind. Now, I'm sure we can all agree that Amy is hands down less annoying than Rose, but I was hoping for an extra-terrestrial companion, such as a new Turlough, Romana, Adric, or Vicki. Or Jamie, for that matter. Why not pick one from history that we seem to frequently visit? No score here, Moffat.

CGI USE/VILLAIN SEVERITY: Davies was actually pretty sparing with CGI in his opener, just as Moffat was. At the risk of sounding like Davies actually out did Moffat, I think the Autons in "Rose" were more of a threat than Prisoner Zero was. The Autons were actually shooting people, whereas the most threatening Zero got was...well.....barking while standing still. Zero frequently reared his spiky teeth, but never actually used them. In fact, instead of just attacking Amy when she wandered into his room, Zero playfully stays out of her line of sight.

One thing I just have to mention: LENS FLARES!! What is so special about them that they have become a form of art in film?! There's a scene with The Doctor and Amy where slow motion reigns supreme, and with no visible source, a blue lens flare is cast across the screen during the slow motion sequence. Didn't like it then, and I never will in anything. All I can think about is how Abrams butchered Star Trek with them.

That about covers the comparisons between Moffat and Davies, as well as most of what I disliked about this episode. The Doctor saves the day instead his companion for once, which was also a plus. This episode felt more like Doctor Who than "Rose," so I was eager to see what was next.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Doctor Who - "The End Of Time, Part Two"

WHOSCALE: 6 out of 10

So begins the final story in the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who.

The second part picks up relatively soon after the last events of the previous part, but it wasn't a fluid continuation from the cliffhanger to the next episode. Of course, that's peanuts. Several two parters throughout the last four seasons have started their second parts that way, and I've seldom made note of it before, so there's no point in picking on Davies about it.

The opening scenes of this episode were terrific - splendid, in fact. Especially in terms of classic Doctor Who style. The dialogue between The Doctor and The Master echoes back to the original series, with The Master's madness reaching new heights. Now with the power of the entire human race at his disposal, he realizes that he can finally resolve the never ending drumbeat in his head. Now, I'm aware that The Master(s) of the original series never complained of such a noise, but I'm trying to be merciful on Davies' final story. Even the music in those first fifteen to twenty minutes is quite subtle.

Despite the CGI overkill in the opening Time Lord scenes, the meeting scenes were done well. The backdrop was dark, with no distinguishable background. The was a technique sometimes employed during the 60s and 70s by productions to cut down on cost. No doubt that wasn't the intent here, but nevertheless it works well in more ways than one. No CGI, and makes for an excellent Gallifreyan meeting place for high ranking Time Lords.

One thing I will say about this episode though: This one has to hold the record for number of rip offs from other science fiction films. I'll name them as I go through the review. The first rip off is the gauntlet Rassilon is wearing, which seems to have that familiar Emperor Palpatine flavor to it. Palpatine didn't need the gauntlet, but I guess if you've mastered the Jedi arts, you don't need one, huh?

Davies wrote some excellent dialogue for The Doctor in the opening scenes, perhaps the best being "Worst. Rescue. Ever!"

The episode continues to look promising as The Doctor, Wilfred and the Vincocci duo escape to an orbiting ship via a teleport. However, the episode starts to falter here a bit. The outward appearance of the Vinvocci ship looks rather...well, cartoonish. Granted, Doctor Who has displayed a wide variety of shapes and sizes when it comes to spacecraft, but they've always had that real-world touch to their design, and didn't look like something out of either Jules Verne or a Saturday morning cartoon.

The episode then starts to bog down in terms of story development. As with traditional Davies stories, there is a "pause" in the flow of the story, accomplished by a heart wrenching heart-to-heart between The Doctor and Wilfred. Now I'm not saying the pacing was too slow. It never is for me in an episode of Doctor Who. Especially when you compare the slowest paced new series episode versus an original series story, such as "The War Games," which spanned a massive ten episodes. Just for contrast, nine and half of those ten episodes were about the story, with the last few minutes focusing on the Second Doctor's regeneration. That's in comparison to the Tenth Doctor's last season, which has been occasionally dwelling on his departure for the most part. Back to my point - the pacing was fine, but the scenes between The Doctor and Wilfred here didn't seem to further the story any, and felt like it was one of those things just aimed specifically at fan girls still whining because Tennant was leaving.

The episode then practically stops being Doctor Who and effectively becomes Star Wars: A New Hope when Wilfred a.k.a Luke Skywalker and Rossiter a.k.a Han Solo man the gunnery of the Vinvocci ship. Of course, the differences are that it's in Earth's atmosphere instead of free space, and they're fighting off hundreds of missiles instead of four TIE fighters.

The episode gets even more ridiculous when The Doctor takes the controls of the ship and aims it right at the Naismith mansion. Just before reducing the house to a cinder - which would have solved all of the problems in one blow (Time Lords returning, The Master, and the template holding The Master Race together - The Doctor sends the ship into a sudden ascent, narrowly missing the mansion. Then by a conveniently placed hatch on the flight deck's floor, The Doctor jumps out of the ship with no means of slowing his fall. In fact, he now holds a revolver. Seriously?! Was Russell half asleep when he wrote this scene? The Doctor didn't survive a fall from a stationary radar dish onto a grassy field in "Logopolis," how could he possibly survive free falling out of a speeding ship, though a glass sky light onto a cement, tile covered floor?!

The episode then turns into a semi-classic western showdown with The Doctor aiming at Rassilon with the revolver, then The Master, then Rassilon, then The Master again.

I remember watching this episode for the first time on New Year's Day, and thinking that perhaps the fall through the glass (which tore his clothes) would be the cause of his regeneration. I'm sure Davies intended it that way. Then I remember being on the edge of my seat when The Doctor was stuck with the decision of shooting The Master or Rassilon. I never saw the solution coming, so kudos to Davies for finally writing a resolution that fit like a glove.

The most utterly pointless element of this entire episode has to be Gallifrey returning. For no apparent reason, Gallifrey appears next door to Earth. Not to destroy Earth or take its place. Just to co-exist with it, I guess. In true Davies form, nameless people are running and screaming in panic as they look up into the sky and see the red giant, as if never seeing a sky full of planets before...."The Stolen Earth," anyone? Once the Time Lords and The Master are returned, Gallifrey in turn vanishes, followed by several scenes of cheerful, nameless people hurrahing that the big bad planet is gone. I say it was pointless because at no time in this episode is it explained HOW Gallifrey is instantly transplanted into our Solar System, or for that matter WHY. The prophecy said that Gallifrey was returning, but that was about all we got on it.

The biggest shock for me when watching this one for the first time was the truth behind "he will knock four times." I remember pondering that heavily during the final days of the Tennant years, and wondering what it could possibly mean. Most fans chose to go with the most obvious answer, being The Master and his sound of drums. I have to say hats off to Mr. Davies for this part, because as a diehard fan of Doctor Who - who studies the series - never saw it coming.

The Doctor enters the chamber and is hit with radiation, at which point he collapses. I remember thinking, "here we go. Finally the regeneration into number Eleven." But no, again The Doctor has defied all odds, and steps out unscathed. The episode's Whoscale breathes one last breath with the subtlety of The Doctor's beginning regeneration. One moment he's peppered with bloody cuts, the next he's healed.

The episode then drops off the map for the next fifteen minutes, as we have to sit through half a dozen farewells from The Doctor to his past companions from the Davies era. Oh yes, Rose is in there.

The Doctor enters the TARDIS and the regeneration finally takes place. Matt Smith gets his first few minutes of screen time as the Eleventh Doctor, and I am left being one hell of an eager beaver, anxious to see where Mr. Steven Moffat was going to take the series.

The Master disappears back into the gate with the Time Lords, and presumably back to Gallifrey within the time lock.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Doctor Who - "The End Of Time, Part One"

WHOSCALE: 7.5 out of 10

With the close of "The Waters Of Mars," most viewers were certain that the Tenth Doctor's end was near. Apart from the animated "Dreamland," this marks the only multi-part story of the revived series to feature the same episode title for all parts, with each part labeled "Part One," "Part Two," etc.

There is quite a lot to cover in this review because Davies had so much he wanted to do with this finale, being that it was also the last story he would contribute to the series. That said, virtually all of the loose ends he's left throughout the series thusfar had to be taken care of now, mainly because with Steven Moffat taking over as Executive Producer for the series at the start of Series 5 (Season 31) wanted a clean slate to work from with the Eleventh Doctor.

John Simm reprises his role as the The Master, and his performance is as brilliant as ever. Once again, he does a magnificent job of portraying the mad Master, even more so now with a botched resurrection resulting in an insatiable appetite for food. This insatiability is so extreme that The Master resorts to cannibalism.

There is of course, a few things that I think were a bit over done or otherwise pointless in this episode. Most of these things will be nothing my readers haven't heard me rant about in previous stories penned by Russell T Davies, because they have become such a staple item for his writing.

First and foremost was probably the music for me. Throughout the episode, I had the BBC Orchestra of Wales blasting my eardrums, even at times when the on screen action was very, very subtle. One such time is the opening sequence with Wilfred in the church. Moments after the mysterious woman vanishes, and Wilfred notices the depiction of the TARDIS in the stained glass window, the music is excessively bombastic. I know I sound like a broken record about it, but this level of orchestrated music just doesn't fit the tech-savvy sci-fi that Doctor Who is meant to be. It works for films like Star Wars and StarGate, because those respective films were the first of their kind, and thus we had nothing to compare them too. In the case of Doctor Who, it's my opinion that the revived series has a select set of standards it must live up to in order of being worthy of diehard fans' acceptance. These standards were set by the original series, and thus showed the world "this is what Doctor Who is like." Fans of any kind of cult sci-fi series are always weary of remakes and resurrections, because the last decade has shown so many ill-fated attempts, with the likes of Battlestar: Galactica, Hawaii 5-0, Transformers, Star Trek, Inspector Clouseau, Beverly Hills: 90210, Dragnet, Get Smart, The Love Boat, The Twilight Zone, Knight Rider, Bionic Woman, Melrose Place, V, Dallas....the list is almost endless. There have been so many bad remakes that I had to google a list of them. At any rate, it should be no surprise that Doctor Who fans were biting their nails when it was announced that the BBC was resurrecting it. While Dudley Simpson and several others performed orchestrated music for the original series, it was always used sparingly, and when it was used, was subtle comparable to the likes of "Blink."

Enough about the music. The second Davies mark was the character introduced for comic relief aimed at the kids watching. This time, it came in the form of the Vinvocci duo Rossiter and Addams. These two characters have about the same exact role - both in story and out - as Dr. Malcolm did in "Planet Of The Dead." Their behavior is often intentionally clumsy and goofy, in much the way Mickey Smith was in "Boom Town." The original series was often dotted with humor, mainly from one-liners by The Doctor, but it seldom required characters at the forefront specifically for comic relief. As I said in an earlier review, something that Davies did not understand and Moffat did was the fact that kids of all ages didn't care that it was super scary - they KNOW it's scary. That's why their watching. Of course, those kids are too young to see the obvious difference between tones in a cannibalistic Master eating people and a duo of green, cactus-looking aliens bumbling around like a Saturday morning cartoon. Nevertheless, the younger audience praised "Blink" and "Silence In The Library" for the sheer terror those stories provided, and thought they could not see it, their reasons for liking those episodes more was because they weren't pampered every ten minutes. Moffat knows they don't want to be. Honestly, if children were so terrified of the monsters on Doctor Who, they wouldn't watch it.

The third issue is not much a common Davies mark as it is the way he treated Tennant's regeneration. With all previous Doctors, the regeneration process was never a time of sorrow, because the man wasn't dying, just changing his outward appearance and maybe his behavior a little. The memories, knowledge, and soul was always still there. However, Davies knew that there were atleast a few million fan girls out there already broken hearted that their precious David Tennant...errr...Doctor was soon meeting his end. Because of that, Tennant's regeneration was treated as exactly that - an end. The scene with Wilfred and The Doctor in the cafe' verbally illustrates this, with a teary-eyed Doctor out right saying that he would cease to exist, that he would die, and another man takes his place and flies away. This is perhaps the biggest misconception of what regeneration is ever. If each incarnation did as Davies depicts and utterly died, to be replaced with a new man, then each incarnation would be totally and absolutely different from the last, with no recollection of his previous adventures. This served as a sort of early morning brain washing for the Tennant lovers, and instantly struck them with a sense of hatred for the newcoming Matt Smith. As a result, many fans were protesting, saying that the show would no longer be Doctor Who and that it would suck after Matt Smith took over, even though they had not even seen Matt in anything yet. The way the regeneration from Eccleston into Tennant is the way it should have been handled here. Rather than have a long, grueling build-up, it should have been on the spot and last minute, like all of Tennant's predecessors. It felt like a lot what Davies was doing with Tennant's final hours was specifically aimed at broken hearted teenagers, who only needed to see one tear from The Doctor before they buried their face in the sofa bawling.

Naturally, this episode contains some meaningless drama, namely the scene where The Doctor meets The Master in the wasteland for a second time. The Master pulls a Emperor Palpatine move and shoots lightning at The Doctor, causing climatic explosions behind him, which he doesn't even seem to notice. The Master gets enough of being mocked, and lands a shot right in The Doctor's chest. Strangely, this is enough to knock him down, but he soon recovers.

The transition from human race into Master race was done well, i thought. Rather than some fancy CGI light show that regeneration has become, it was more of a camera trick. It was neat how once the process had started, the people would fluctuate between person and Master before ultimately becoming a doppleganger of The Master.

The final scene shows the narrator of the episode to be James Bond....err....Lord Bond....errr...James Rassilon....err...anyway, Timothy Dalton stars as a Time Lord in a final scene that can be described as nothing less than a rip off from the senate scene from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

With that left only one final installment in the RTD era.

Doctor Who - "Dreamland"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Since I included the previous animated story "The Infinite Quest," I thought it would only be fair to include the other animated short that aired in weekly parts between the showing of "The Waters Of Mars" and "The End Of Time."

What scored this one high right off the bat was the fact that it was a in depth story divided into serial format, where each individual episode ended in a cliffhanger accompanied with the "sting" of the theme music. Even though each episode was only five to six minutes in length (save the opening episode), the entire story from start to finish has the feel of an original series story.

Many fans have criticized the serial's poor animation quality, and have thus considered it one of the worst stories in Doctor Who history. However, these viewers often think what makes a program great is shiny, high tech special effects such as those in the Transformers movies. The story doesn't have to be clever, just bombard the audience with explosions and shaky camerawork to keep them watching.

Perhaps the one complaint I had with the serial was the accelerated pacing of the story, which I was willing to overlook since writer Phil Ford was forced to cram his story into six minute segments instead of traditional 25 minute segments.

Ford also steers clear throughout the story of any wishy washy soapy romance, which was another plus and direct reflection of traditional Doctor Who story telling format. As with original series episodes, the romance between Cassie and Jimmie is limited to at most holding hands a couple of times. The most emotional scenes are perhaps the saddened Saruba Velak.

I also thought that the character of Mister Dread was done well, and Ford did a great job of interweaving them into the plot line.

Other than mentioning that the serial was praised by SFX Magazine, I can find no other things that I disliked about it. It was a solid story through and through, and the fact that it was a Doctor Who serial complete with cliffhangers alone was enough to sell me on it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Waters Of Mars"

WHOSCALE: 6 out of 10

For the third special leading up to the big finale with the Tenth Doctor, Russell T Davies collaborated with Phil Ford to write this story set on Mars in the year 2059.

For about the first thirty minutes, this episode felt very close to classic Doctor Who, with the exception of a little over orchestrated music. However, the first half had the dark, creepy tone comparable to an episode of The X Files, and is definitely a rival for Davies' earlier "Midnight."

As with virtually all of Davies' stories, this one has a character whose main purpose is merely comic relief. In this case it's the Wall-E rip off called Gadget.

The episode starts to take tremendous downturns though when entire sequences begin to be solely devoted to enlightening the audience on Adelaide's personal history, from being spared by Dalek during the events of "The Stole Earth" and "Journeys End" to her future, where her great, great, grandchildren fall in love with new species. Davies continuously beat us over the head with the fact that Adelaide's death on Bowie Base One was a fixed point in time, and could not be changed. In spite of all that, I still didn't understand why it was necessary to know WHY Adelaide was even on the mission. Why weren't the other members asked?

This episode very loosely reminds me of the Fourth Doctor story "The Ark In Space," where The Doctor encounters a group of pioneering humans ready to "out-sit eternity" as he puts it. However, in that story, we didn't have to sit through five to six heart-wrenching minutes of Vira telling us why she was even on The Ark. In the case of "The Waters Of Mars," the episode would have done just as well without that info, especially the flashback sequence as The Doctor and Adelaide examine the ice crater.

On the subject of the ice crater, Davies does take time to nod the original series by mentioning the Ice Warriors.

The way the infected scientists looked was well done, and definitely gave me the willies a little the first time I watched it. It's those beady eyes and pronounced smile that gets you.

As if the first dabble in Adelaide's diary wasn't enough at the crater, we go through a 2059 version of a late night phone call between she and The Doctor via the comm system. Again, the episode goes from chaos to very somber and slow in the blink of an eye (no pun intended). This is another typical mark for Davies, as he did a similar mid-chaos pause in "Army Of Ghost" and "Doomsday."

From that point, the episode becomes 100% a music video, all shown in slow motion for boosted drama smothered in a orchestral and vocal soundtrack. This continues long enough for The Doctor to stand and watch the base team scurrying to load the ship, as well as turn and walk out.
At normal speed, the scene would have lasted anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds, but for the sake of barraging the audience with drama to cover up a spot of writer's block, we show the entire sequence over several minutes in slow motion.

As with most of the new series episodes, the sonic screwdriver yet again saves the day, by modifying Gadget into a DeLorean that leaves tire marks of fire. Not really, but ANYONE who has watched Back To The Future would have instantly thought of that film when they saw Gadget blasting down corridors and across the Martian surface. That bit was for the kids watching, because evidently today's generation of child sci-fi fanatics can only handle so much serious tone per episode. Remember when the original Doctor Who was a kid's show? Remember when the original Star Trek was a kid's show? Look Russell, kids don't want a cute little robot to make them feel like everything is going to be OK when they are intentionally watching the show because they know it scares them. Did Chris Carter hold back when he spooked us with The X Files? No! And Russell wonders why everyone picked "Blink" as their favorite. It's because it was super creepy, and Moffat didn't try to brighten up the episode's obvious dark tone with kid's humor. Yeah, it scared the Dickens out of kids and kept scaring them, but they loved it for that, and thus were pining for more.

The rocket explodes causing a hull breach on the base. Atmosphere is venting out so fast that the three remaining members - Adelaide, Yuri and Mia - have to hold on to keep from getting sucked out. Then The Doctor enters in heroic gesture to save the day, oddly unaffected by the venting atmosphere. He grabs a sealant canister and tosses it to Mia, who evidently is no longer affected by the venting atmosphere either, because she's standing straight and hands free to catch the canister.

The final scene was done rather well. The Doctor drops off the three survivors, and for once we see a darker side to the cheeky Tenth Doctor. Adelaide ultimately takes her own life, thus sustaining the current sequence of future events, and The Doctor is shell shocked at the realization that no matter what he does, he is powerless over the decisions of others. Ood Sigma pays him a visit in the street, then vanishes. Inside the TARDIS, the Kloister Bell is heard, and the stage is set for the Tenth Doctor's final story.

Doctor Who - "Planet Of The Dead"

WHOSCALE: 5.9 out of 10

When I first got word that parts of the Easter Special would be filmed in Dubai, and Russell T Davies has stated that the location shots would be for an alien world, I was somewhat excited, because my first thought was "he's finally going to an alien world." However, after further thought, I realized that it was a rip of either Tatooine, or a rip of Abydos. For those of you not familiar with the latter, it's the name of the planet in the StarGate film.

Everything about this episode just felt like a mess. It's like Davies came up with the plot - that of The Doctor and some fellow bus passengers getting stranded on an alien world via a portal - but didn't bother to come up with a resolution for the story until he was writing it, in which case he wrote multiple obstacles, and then had to invent ways to take care of them all in the final ten minutes. Normally, I would say that this is typical RTD style.

Let's start with the pointless opening sequence. A young lady steals a precious cup from a secured museum Mission: Impossible style, and then for a speedy getaway she hops on a bus. Rather than use the advanced tracking capabilities of the TARDIS, The Doctor boards the same bus with a little scanner thingy....and Easter chocolate. A spine-tingling 25 MPH hot pursuit begins, with cops chasing down the bus through a tunnel. A London tour bus outrunning police cars? Hmmm.

The episode finally starts an upward climb when the bus is transported across the universe to a barren desert planet. The next ten to fifteen minutes is more or less a repeat of the ten to fifteen minutes of "Midnight." There's crying, whining, "we're gonna die" and a lot of finger pointing at The Doctor. Sound familiar?

The Doctor and Lady Christina venture out from the stranded tour bus, and notice an approaching storm on the horizon. The episode then takes another Doctor Who form when we see that someone is watching the two of them from afar. It not is revealed what the aliens look like until later, and they turn out to be reminiscent of the Foamasi from "The Leisure Hive." Speaking of nods to the original series, The Doctor also mentions "the giant robot" when asking about past UNIT involvements, referring to The Fourth Doctor's first story, "Robot." Something that an original Doctor Who episode would not have done that this one did was have The Doctor snatch a passenger's cell phone to ring up UNIT for help. Really? The man who has seen all of time and space and he needs help from HUMANS to get out of this? He can defeat armies of Daleks, Cybermen, Toclafane, he can outsmart Weeping Angels, he can destroy all the Time Lords, but when he has car trouble he has to call road side assistance?!

Probably the most useless character was that of Dr. Malcolm. It was clear on numerous occasions that his character was introduced for the sole purpose of comic relief, and often drained the episode's serious tone dry.

Meanwhile back on Earth, the chasing police are stunned to see a tour bus vanish in front of them. Ok, here's the plothole. The bus is heading through the tunnel towards the roadblock, but passes through the portal at the end. Later, the cops giving chase are with the cops manning the road block. How did they get around the portal? Did they turn, go back and make two blocks? Is the portal anti-police?

About forty minutes in, Davies starts wrapping things up. It was already clear that the bus was not getting out the sand trap under its own power. To solve this, Davies introduces a crystal at the end of a long shaft held with anti-gravity clamps. Why would the Tritovores construct their ship that way? Oh I see. So the opening sequence can have meaning. Lady Christina uses her Mission: Impossible skills to retrieve the clamps. The Doctor offers to give the two Tritovores a lift, but rather than deal with writing a TARDIS scene for them, Davies just kills them off.

Back to the tour bus, The Doctor installs the anti-gravity clamps on the wheels, which oddly enough, seemed to be tailored specifically for clamping bus wheels. A fifth clamp is placed on the steering wheel, and after requiring to hammer the hell out of Lady Christina's earlier swag, the bus suddenly has the capability to fly, steered and accelerated using the bus' steering wheel and pedal.

The Doctor and company fly safely through the portal just in the nick of time, trailed only by two of the metal stingrays. This leads to a fire fight between UNIT forces and the two stingrays. The bus sets down, and there is an overly emotional group of passengers filled with joy that they're back in good ol' London town. The ending virtually goes on a killing spree of WhoScale points. Malcolm is in tears that he finally gets to meet the legendary Doctor, and continuously chants "I love you!" Enter homosexual humor here. Additionally, UNIT now caters to The Doctor by picking up his TARDIS where ever it was and delivering it to him. Funny how the Fourth Doctor had to walk back to his TARDIS in "Terror Of The Zygons" and "The Android Invasion." Who are you kidding, Russell? Just another way to conveniently tie up a plot hole you had not foreseen until you were writing the ending.

Lady Christina asks to join The Doctor in his travels, which he declines in favor of justice for her theft at the opening. The Doctor then has a change of hearts and sonic screwdrivers Lady Christina's handcuffs at a distance. She hops on the tour bus, and flies away into the starry sky.

Rather than traditionally have The Doctor figure out how to close the expansive portal when he gets back, the scientist Malcolm accomplishes it. My question is, if they had the tech to detect and close portals of this magnitude, why wasn't it detected and closed immediately?

Well, as most of you know it usually pointless to try and justify the plot holes that Davies often overlooks in favor of writing a good EastEnders drama. The episode scored a high five because that's about what it was. Thirty minutes of what felt like Doctor Who, and thirty minutes of "am I still watching Doctor Who?"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Next Doctor"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Russell T Davies kicks off the final stories with the Tenth Doctor with a Christmas Special. This is clearly the best Cybermen story of the RTD era. Not only does Davies introduce us to some wicked looking new villains - the CyberShades, but he also presents us with an in-depth storyline, and a plot as thick as a Dalek's casing.

One thing that I have always liked about this Christmas special was the fact that it wasn't an episode of Doctor Who that was swamped with Christmas goodies. Instead, it is more of a Doctor Who story set during Christmas. Apart from a few "Merry Christmas" remarks, the episode chiefly stayed clear of any outright Christmas inserts. I have nothing against Christmas, but some of the specials have seen their share of Christmas overdoses to the point that they directly affect a good storyline. "The Christmas Invasion" for example. Killer Christmas trees? Really?

I do think that the episode could have been titled better, even though I'm fully aware it was more or less a publicity stunt to ensure fans would tune in. It's only fitting that Davies would tease fans about The Doctor's next incarnation, since his flirtation with regeneration in "The Stolen Earth" and "Journeys End." But the idea of calling it "The Next Doctor" when in fact Morrissey isn't really the next Doctor is bit misleading, if not pointless. A pity though, in retrospect, because the first time I watched this episode I remember thinking what a great Doctor Morrissey would make.

With the misleading title aside, this episode offered a very deep mystery for The Doctor to solve. We soon discover that the Cybermen are at work, but WHAT they are up to, and what Miss Hartigan's involvement with them is were questions we were frequently asking.

Davies wins more WhoScale points with this one by writing a Cybermen story that only uses three to ten Cybermen in frame at any given time, and no CGI wide angle shots with a jillion Cybermen in the background.

The cemetery scene was nicely done, with maybe one small oversight- two Cybershades hold a man captive while a Cybermen shocks him. The electric charge doesn't seem to affect the two Cybershades.

The episode does take a small downward turn though in the last twenty minutes, where the underground factory scene begins to look like Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom merged with a West Side Story musical. Also, the moment the CyberKing arose from the Thames and started marching over Victorian London, I immediately thought, "Go, Go Power Rangers." In Doctor Who's defense, this isn't the first time the Doctor has dealt with giant robots, but it only works when it's tastefully and carefully done, so that it doesn't look like a Victorian Megazord.

My only other complaint with this one is one that is frequently repeated in my reviews of the new series. The orchestrated music. This is another element of Doctor Who that can work if it's done correctly, but in the case of this episode - where a musical score seems to accompany the entire length of the episode - it's just too much music, especially in some quiet, passive dialogue scenes where it was really unnecessary. In those scenes, the dialogue nor the story was trying to invoke an emotion, we were just listening.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and often found myself thinking how different the pace and story of this episode was compared to the last two. Probably the biggest Christmas present Davies could give any Doctor Who fan in an episode was the montage of all ten Doctors. The episode opened with a lot of questions, but Davies was able to answer them all slowly and effectively through the course of the episode, and all the explanations made logical sense. Definitely a positive change from the last season's finale.

Doctor Who - "Journeys End"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Davies closes the previous episode with several cliffhangers rolled into one, so to start this review, I'll explain how magically these were all taken care of within the first five minutes. The Doctor avoids regeneration by using just enough energy to heal his wounds and then magically vent the remaining energy to his severed hand in a jar. Makes me wonder why the 5th, 6th, and 7th Doctors never thought of using this hidden talent, since they also regenerated inside the TARDIS.

Sarah Jane, who was cornered by two Daleks, is saved by the sudden appearance of Mickey Smith and....JACKIE TYLER??! Come on, Russell!! Let it go, already!!! How the fudge are all of these seemingly idiotic characters suddenly able to wield oversized laser guns (that need cocking?) and jump through dimensions easier than the Sliders team?

Meanwhile, Iato and screamin' Gwen are saved by a time lock placed on the approaching Dalek. Howwwww convenient!! Carrying over from the previous episode, that's plot hole number five: how the fudge was a time lock placed inside Torchwood?? And by whom?? Why not time lock ALL the Daleks?

The concluding episode then continues in the same rampant paced fashion the first part did. The story seems to get even further out of control when Donna gets trapped inside the TARDIS and it is plunged into the Crucible's core. How do we fix this no win scenario? Simple: Create another Doctor by allowing Donna to touch the severed hand jar for no other reason other than the sound of a heartbeat.

Rose once again states the obvious for us with "You're still you." Yes, woman!! Geeez, the man just said it!!!

In my personal opinion, this two part story scarcely bordered being an episode of Doctor Who. Davies focused so hard on tying up his loose ends with the series, namely the love story between the Doctor and Rose - which never should have made it's way into this kind of entertainment in the first place, by the way - that the story concerning the actual Doctor Who plot ended up being severely sloppy. There were too many star characters for a two part story. This story should have been four episodes, no less. There was just way too much to try and cram into two 50 minute time slots. That's why the episode's pacing had to accelerated to the point where ten minutes represented thirty in a normal episode.

Davies once again outright rips off George Lucas with his Dalek Crucible design. It looks remarkably similar to a certain "armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." In this case, it has enough to destroy an entire everything.

Now to the ending. All of the other 26 planets are easily returned to their respective homes in time and space, except for Earth (of course, Earth!) which is magically towed home with the TARDIS and deposited back in orbit, where the Moon has somehow managed to hold off the laws of physics. Donna now has equal knowledge to The Doctor. I cannot express how disappointed I am that Davies didn't allow Donna to continue on like that. For a moment I honestly thought we were going to get a companion to rival the likes of Romana. However, that would shattered any love story possibilities, and so The Doctor magically wipes Donna's mind. With the walls of reality never even being touched, somehow The Doctor is able to materialize at Bad Wolf Bay to drop off Jackie, Rose, and the duplicate Doctor. After a romantic overkill scene, the Doctor deposits Donna with Wilfred and then heads on alone.

Thankfully, this was Davies' last regular season episode, and we were just four stories away from what the mind of Mr. Moffat had in store for Doctor Who.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Stolen Earth"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

This episode marks the beginning of the season's two-part finale. It's also the last season finale penned by Russell T Davies, and it's about what you would expect from a final...err...finale by Davies.

The pacing of this episode is perhaps the fastest ever for a Doctor Who episode. Apart from Rose's usual whining, that was my number one complaint with it. Within the pre-title sequence, the plot is completely revealed - someone has plucked the Earth clean out of the Solar System. Plot hole number one: With the Earth gone, how does our Moon maintain position? It has nothing to orbit! Naturally, the suspense is stretched out to breaking point with a series of "Just look at the sky!" remarks, leading up to the hero of the day showing up, The Doc.....WTF?! ROSE TYLER??!! AGAIN???!!

As with all but one of Davies' finales, the Daleks are back; this time stronger than ever. Plot hole number two: In the opener, Iato surmises that the atmosphere and heat have been left intact because the invaders "want them alive." Moments later, a message is broadcast by the Daleks chanting "Exterminate!" Wait, so they stole Earth and kept the inhabitants alive just so they could go on a killing spree? If they wanted the humans dead to begin with, why bother preserving the heat and atmosphere? Seems to me that removing the heat would have "killed all their birds with one stone" so to speak.

Even later, the Daleks are seen capturing humans, which is later revealed to be because of a small test of Davros' Reality Bomb. Hmm....so they needed ten test subjects, but chose to preserve 6 million? Let's call that plot hole number two and a half.

The usual Davies scenes are in this episode, as well; running, frantic, panicky people; news anchors on TV screens, lots of crying, lots of emotion inducing music.

The episode finally gets a shot of Doctor Who when The Doctor opts to visit the Shadow Proclamation for more info. Those scenes were relatively slowly paced, stayed focused on the missing Earth issue, and didn't shoot up over doses of drama.

We soon discover that Rose is on the hunt for The Doctor, even though she was able to pinpoint Donna's position in an alternate timeline numerous times in "Turn Left." Furthermore, why can't she just be a good little past companion and stay put??!! That's plot hole number three.

The episode more or less ties together everything Davies ever did for Doctor Who (save for The Master), as far as characters - Rose, Martha, Martha's mother, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Daleks, Donna's mother, Wilfred, and London suburbans.

It just felt like the episode was in a "super hurry" to get past the initial plot line, so that we could reach the massively climatic cliffhanger. What killed this episode's score was the fact that instead of passively, slowly revealing the plot and storyline to us, we were constantly being slapped in the face with it and beat over the head from start to finish. LITERALLY. I just felt like I was having what should have been no less than a trilogy of episodes crammed into one shoved down my throat.

During the video conference with Harriet Jones (yes, Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister is back too....and I KNOW you KNOW who she is!), Rose is shocked to discover that other women have been travelling with The Doctor since she left in "Doomsday." UH-OH! SCANDAL IN THE TARDIS!! Seriously, Russell? Why is this soapy shit in an episode of Doctor Who? What was even more annoying was the fact that Rose was about to leap through the laptop monitor screaming "ME! ME! ME!" like an eight year old.

Loyal fans of the original series probably yelled at their televisions when Rose gruntly comments, "Me too, and I was there first!" Hmm....I hear a "WTF did she just say?!" echoing across time and space from a long line of past companions. Susan, Ian and Barbara were the first, if memory serves. The worst part is, Rose had MET Sarah Jane previously in "School Reunion," so she KNEW that The Doctor seldom traveled alone. Why was that such a shock to her?! Plot hole number four, if you're still counting.

Once again, there are numerous scenes where drama was poured on so thickly that the episode was almost like a TNT original....they know drama. Get it? Two examples are the "What do we do?!" plea from Donna in the TARDIS, and then Gwen firing her rifle at a Dalek. Does screaming dramatically increase the effectiveness of the rounds? If so, someone should tell Iato - he was dead silent.

This episode's two saving graces are 1) the re-introduction of Davros, portrayed here by Julian Bleach, and 2) Davies actually nodding to an original story with The Doctor thinking aloud, "Someone tried to move the Earth once before." Unfortunately, Davros had a complete Davies revamp, as well. Now possessing a metallic hand, modern day controls and a radar dish for a headrest.

The episode comes to a climatic end with a Casablanca-inspired Doctor/Rose reunion, only to be interrupted by a conveniently placed Dalek. The Doctor is shot clean through both hearts, but unlike normal Dalek victims, including Cybermen, who are killed instantly, The Doctor is still well enough to start the regeneration process. Could it be? A regeneration within a season? Not seen since "The Tenth Planet?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Doctor Who - "Turn Left"

WHOSCALE: 4 out of 10

Following the "Donna-lite" episode titled "Midnight," Russell T Davies followed up with a "Doctor-lite" episode. Although this one faired better than Davies' disasterous "Love And Monsters," "Turn Left" still left a lot to be desired, and a lot of it felt like it was strictly aimed at Billie Piper fan girls, rather than Doctor Who fans.

At the close of "Doomsday," we left Rose Tyler trapped in a parallel world, with the walls closed FOREVER. Davies uses that word ALOT, and then later undermines it. Another example is the Doctor explaining that travel between parallel worlds is not only unsafe, but IMPOSSIBLE. Yet on two different occasions, Daleks, Cybermen, Rose Tyler and a parallel Torchwood have managed to traverse the walls of realities with very relative ease.
This episode was just such a technical oversight that some thing

s just didn't make sense - the result of merely doing something solely for the sake of drama, I suppose. Travel between realities was done via devices worn around the travellers' necks in "Army Of Ghost"/"Doomsday." However, in the case of Rose Tyler, her method of arrival and departure depends on the mood of the particular scene. Recalling "Partners In Crime," where Rose is first seen in this season, she slowly fades away as she walks away from the camera. Purely a drama device. Yet in "Turn Left," she sometimes arrives/exits by dashing into thundering, flashing lights off-camera, while other times, she just fades away in front of Donna's eyes.

What was more grinding about this one was the fact that after a mere two years, Rose suddenly now has enough in-depth knowledge about quantum mechanics to cannibalize the TARDIS and build a make-shift time machine. Which brings me to the most obvious plothole of this story - if Rose was capable of traversing time, and she has knowledge of Donna's life-changing choice, why didn't ROSE just zap (or fade in and out) back to one minute past ten on that day and undo the damage herself?! There never was any indication that Donna had to be the one to make the change.

Additionally, Rose seemed to be flying solo for the most part of the episode, but when Donna finally agrees to go with her, suddenly Rose has been working with UNIT for some time.

The more I think about this episode, the less I like it. Moffat is clearly the only writer to pull off a successful "Doctor-lite" story between he and Davies.

Of course, the two usual Russell T Davies staple scenes were in this one - the panicky news anchors, with close-ups on their eyes and mouth, all done using shaky cams; and then the scene of the woman screaming just before Donna is hit by the truck. That scene was an instant reminder of the little girl in "The Runaway Bride."

Probably the thing that just winds me up about this one is Davies' outright plagiarism of the nature of the Trickster's Brigade. Apparently, the creature on Donna's back lives off days that would have come, by altering it's hosts' future. TWO WORDS: WEEPING ANGELS. I suppose it's personal for me, because I consider Moffat a hero when it comes to Doctor Who.

Maybe it was me, but the effect Piper's teeth had on her teefff....err.....TEETH seemed worse than it used to be. I couldn't help but notice things like "TARDISHH." That annoyed the hell out of me. The whole writing of Rose's character in this episode annoys me, because its almost like Davies is making her into a female equivalent of The Doctor (ummmm, Romana says NOT A CHANCE, BLONDIE!), so fan girls can have a bit of heroine worship while the boys root for our good Doctor.

Overall, as I said, this one is better than Davies' Series 2 epic fail, but it lacked the spirit and format of Doctor Who, nonetheless. I think its largely due to just the absence of The Doctor ALTOGETHER, save for the pre-title sequence and the final three minutes. Besides the marvelous Weeping Angels, I think what made "Blink" such a successful Doctor-lite episode is that even though there were only two actual scenes of The Doctor, we still continually saw him throughout the episode via Larry's DVD easter eggs.

I gave this episode a 4 because it was a novel idea, but it could have been done better if he hadn't just been so preoccupied on pleasing the Rose fans, the Doctor/Rose lovers for life fans, and just the fan girlies in general.

Doctor Who - "Midnight"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Now that we were past Moffat's golden nuggets for this season, it was time to get back on board with Russell T Davies for the final four episodes of the season.

This episode was hands down, no bones about it, the creepiest Russell T Davies had contributed to the series - rivaled only perhaps by "The Waters Of Mars." Although he relied heavily on "cabin fever" to provide unease, panic and despair, "Midnight" truly showed the capabilities of Davies as a worthy writer for Doctor Who.

There were a few of his usual "dummy marks," such as the passengers' clothing being 21st century Earth in design, and modern-day EXIT signs placed aloft the bus. Jethro's family seemed to be too much like a 2010 family, rather than one of the distant future.

Nevertheless, this episode LITERALLY gave me chills on numerous occassions, particularly the look on possessed, wide-eyed Skye. Additionally, the use of pronounced shadows caused by torch light made it even creepier.

The story was very imaginative from the ground up, with an obvious nod to the Fourth Doctor story "The Leisure Hive." The diamond planet Midnight, bombarded by extonic light made it physically, logically and absolutely impossible for life to exist outside the protection of the dome and the bus. A well imagined concept, and the fact that we never actually see "it" certainly keeps audiences behind the sofa.

In addition to the concept of Midnight itself, Davies did a fantastic job of providing the entity with a subtle (if not creepy) method of taking over - by repeating every work spoken by everyone, then synchonizing with them, then moving to the final stage, which then reverses the roles of the Doctor and Skye.

Davies' era was soon coming to an end, so it was great that he was finally able to ignore the fan girls' expectations enough to chase the rest of us behind the sofa once before his departure.

A terrific episode, and I consider it part of the string of favorites I have for this season that started with "The Sontaran Stratagem." It was intended to be a companion-lite episode, which Davies reasonably works into the story by having Donna stay behind sun bathing. Certainly a 180 for Davies since his last attempt at a "lite" episode, "Love And Monsters."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Doctor Who - "Forest Of The Dead"

WHOSCALE: 8.5 out of 10

Keeping up with Doctor Who tradition, this episode picks up where we left off at the close of "Silence In The Library."

With The Doctor & Company now on the run from the Vashta Nerada, the pacing of this episode was stepped up a bit from the previous one, but not so much that anything felt rushed. The story continues to unfold at a steady rate, while the questions we were asking during the last episode w
ere are slowly answered. Well, with the exception of River Song.

As with most of the episodes penned by Steven Moffat, I could find very little I disliked about this one. Perhaps the one thing that troubled me was the emotional rollercoaster we were thrown on at the end. One moment were on the verge of tears because of Song's death and Donna narrowly missing Lee in the Library before he is teleported, and then the next we're overflowing with joy (again on the verge of tears) because The Doctor, due to his experience in The Library, is able to devise a method of saving Song by giving her his sonic screwdriver sometime in his future.

The cyberspace version of Miss Evangelista still chills me to the bone, in solid black dress and a twisted face.

Once the people of the Library were teleported back, I was relieved that they were all dressed in black, and didn't look like readers plucked out of a Books-A-Million store.

Despite the episode's emotional ending, it still proved to be as sweet a sight to Doctor Who fans as a full bag of Jelly Ba

We are left wondering who River Song could be, and since this episode there has been much speculation and debate among fans concerning her and who she is. Since at the time of writing this article Series 6 has already aired, it pointless to put any speculation here.

Doctor Who - "Silence In The Library"

WHOSCALE: 9.5 out of 10

I have to be honest, since I started my reviews of Series 4 (Season 30), I've been eagerly looking forward to this episode and the next. This one was written by Doctor Who mastermind Steven Moffat, and had more or less earned it's 9.5 on the WhoScale within the first ten minutes.

Moffat once again goes full-on suspense, chills, mystery and terror, which usually secures an episode of Doctor Who as being top-notch. The pacing

of this story follows traditional Doctor Who serial format by devoting the majority of this half of the two part story to asking questions, but allowing us to only take our wildest guesses at what's actually going on, and so we patiently wait for our good Doctor to work it out.
As I write this review, my mind is bursting with things I want t
o be sure and mention, so I'll do my best to cover it all concisely.

This episode is considered by many fans - both old and new, and including me - to be their favorite of the David Tennant years.

"Silence In the Library" also introduces us to River Song, whose past....er, well The Doctor's future...ummm.....that is, HER past, but HIS future is as much shrouded in mystery as The Doctor's was prior to "An UnEarthly Child."

Everything about this episode felt like true Doctor Who, and we're able to sit through 45 minutes of unraveling the mystery of the silent Library, without any "domestic" intermissions like that of Jackie and Pete during "Doomsday."

The music was subtle, and sparingly used throughout the set up of the story in the Library, which added to the creepy mood.

I absolutely LOVED the cliffhanger, since it was more true to the Doctor Who spirit by being more of a pause in the unfolding of the story until the next episode, rather than utterly defeating The Doctor and then allowing him to face such impossible odds be the cliffhanger. Example? "Bad Wolf," "Army Of Ghosts," "Utopia," and "The Sound Of Drums."

Those stories were all penned by Russell T Davies, so don't get me wrong - Davies has contributed some masterpieces to Doctor Who, such as "The End of the World," "The Long Game," "New Earth," "Tooth And Claw," and the upcoming "Midnight;" but let's face it - Steven Moffat OWNS when it comes to Doctor Who.

That said, after this episode was aired, it was announced that Davies would step down as Executive Producer and Head Writer for the series, to be replaced by Moffat starting with Series 5. Brilliant episode, and gives "Blink" a real good run for it's money when I'm picking a favorite.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Unicorn and the Wasp"

WHOSCALE: 9 out of 10

This episode was written by Gareth Roberts, and is the first to score a 9 on the Whoscale since Moffat's "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances."

I remember seeing the title for this episode before it aired, and I was eager with anticipation to see it, since the title was very intriguing leaving me wondering what it could possibly be about. For me, those kinds of titles work the best, directly referring to elements in the story, but at the same time keeping you from understanding its meaning until the end.

Although my review ranks this one very high, I have on occasion encountered fans who utterly disliked this one, and often rated it the worst of Series Four.

Doctor Who always works well when there's multiple mysteries to solve, and Roberts throws us right into the mix with the with the greatest mystery writer, Agatha Christie. The episode follows the "whodunit" format, allowing The Doctor to slowly work out what's going on, and keeping us attentive to hear his explanation.

Despite this episode almost mirroring a mix of Clue, Mrs. Marple, and various other novels from Christie, the reason for the likeness is explained within the story.

The setting of the episode, the pacing the mood, the characters and even the incidental music were all spot-on, which contributed to this episode's exceptional score.

Fans of the original series should recognize the actor portraying the Colonel as Henry Gordon Jago in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang."

In fact, the only drawback to this episode was the obvious gay relationship between Lady Edison's son and Davenport, one of the household staff. A minor drawback, and hardly worth mentioning.

Great dialogue through and through. Best episode Roberts had contributed.

Doctor Who - "The Doctor's Daughter"

WHOSCALE: 8.5 out of 10

I remember when I first saw the title of this episode before it aired, and I recall thinking that it was going to be a total dud, full of wishy-washy, soapy, tear jerking scenes. Of course, at that time I foolishly assumed that the title's reference was literal.

The pre-title sequence to this episode quickly explains the title's REAL meaning: that "The Doctor's Daughter" is not a family member returning from the ashes of Gallifrey, but an anomaly generated by extracting a cell from The Doctor's hand and then growing a clone from it.

Ironically, The Doctor's daughter is portrayed by Georgia Moffett, who is Peter Davison's real life daughter. So, The Doctor's daughter IS The Doctor's daughter.

This episode scored an 8.5 because it was full of classic Who flavor from start to finish. Another world, underground tunnels, a war between the humans and the fish-like Hath, a slate of mysteries to solve, one of The Doctor's companions separated from the group, Donna once again shows off how clever she is, and The Doctor using a little wind-up mouse to distract a guard were all generous amounts of key ingredients that kept me on the edge of my seat....well, actually I watched from the foot of my bed, but you get the idea.

After seeing this one for the first time, I recall instantly considering it one of my favorites, and it still is. The Fourth Series seemed to be the best of the Tennant years as far as being parallel to what Doctor Who is all about.

The only dispute I had was at the very end, where Jenny is shot and The Doctor gets a bit "Captain Kirk preachy." I did wonder if Jenny's revival was a rip off from "Star Trek: The Search for Spock," where a similar terra-forming device, GENESIS, was used and inadvertently reanimated a dead Spock.

It was Moffat's decision to keep Jenny alive, and hats off to him for that. At least we know there is one other Time Lord out there somewhere.

Brilliant episode, and definitely the best of the season so far.

Doctor Who - "The Poison Sky"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

The conclusion to "The Sontaran Stratagem" was just as terrific. For the duration of the episode, The Doctor continues to unravel the reason for the Atmos gas that started filling the skies at the close of the previous episode.

With each of my reviews, I watch the episode from the classic Doctor Who side of the fence, so I often spend my reviews ranting about things I felt were inconsistent with the fundamentals set by the original series. While some people have told me that there is no comparing the two, the fact that fans like myself who grew up with the multi-colored scarf are hooked on the revived series as much as we are the original is proof that in spite of all of Russell T Davies' shortcomings with his vision of the new series, Doctor Who still has the spark that it did all those years ago.

Helen Raynor once again shows that she can keep a plotline afloat for the length of two episodes, just as she did with her Dalek story. I was relieved to see that Sontaran firearms were alien in design, complete with flashing red lights at the tip of their barrels. I know it sounds toyish and cheesy, but just because it's 2008 doesn't mean everything alien has to be exotic in design. The Sontaran weapons weren't too Star Wars-y, in short. Ofcourse, I now distinctly remember a Sontaran in "The Invasion of Time" wielding a weapon shaped more like a wand, with the handle end tailored to better suit a Sontaran's large three fingers.

Another plus I neglected to mention in my review of "The Sontaran Stratagem" was the electronic sounds used as music for the Sontarans. However, I must confess I was also partial to the short trumpet fanfare that played during short Sontaran marching scenes.

About the only minuses I could find with this two parter was the usual RTD dummy marks - scene after scene after scene of news anchors ranting about "stay in your homes," "biblical plagues," and "the end of days," with close ups of the anchors' mouths accompanied with extreme shaky camera work. Completely unnecessary, since audiences would have already worked it out themselves. As I've said, this is always inserted just to give the drama a shot of nitrous oxide.

The other RTD "dummy mark" was, of course, the involvement of Donna's family in the Sontaran crisis, setting the stage for RTD's usual tear-jerker scenes, and that includes Martha's farewell to her clone.

The only other minus was the shaky reality TV camera work as Rattigan attempts to persuade his fellow students to join him on his new world, which ultimately ends up just being an empty promise made to Rattigan by the Sontarans.

Donna is fantastic once again as the companion, showing some full-on calm initiative while under pressure on the Sontaran ship, as well as bravery, something Rose lacked frequently.

The conclusion was a bit puzzling though, as The Doctor ignited all the gas in the sky causing a wall of fire which conveniently seemed to only affect the upper atmosphere, but still clear the gas below.

The episode is full of twists right to the end, where the TARDIS inexplicably sends The Doctor, Martha, and Donna on an adventure without The Doctor touching a thing.

Favorite dialogue? The Doctor in a gas mask: "Are you my mummy?"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Sontaran Stratagem"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

Staying consistent with the format of each season, The Doctor and Donna return to modern-day Earth in the first of this two parter penned by Helen Raynor.

Raynor wrote last season's two part Dalek story, "Daleks In Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks," which also scored well on the Whoscale.

Raynor once again proves that she can write great stories for the revived series that has the look and feel of classic Doctor Who.

Right off the bat, Raynor continues to stick to a Doctor Who tradition with the title of this episode. Viewers that know the Fourth Doctor's tenure well are instantly reminded of "The Sontaran Experiment." Raynor stuck to tradition in her Dalek story as well, with the title following the "____ of the Daleks" format.

What really scored this episode some big points is how closely The Doctor works with UNIT, versus a more subtle approach by Russell T. Davies in "Aliens of London" and "World War Three." "The Sontaran Stratagem" had all the ingredients; green UNIT jeeps, a UNIT base, and the purples used in some of the lighting for this episode reminded me of the mid 70s and early 80s of Doctor Who, which was another plus.

Probably the most disappointing thing for me had to be the complete revamp of the Sontarans. About the only element carried over from the original series was the shape of their heads, their helmet design, and their insignias.

For the first appearance since the mid 80s, the Sontarans now don colors of greyish blue, instead of their traditional black. Additionally, their physiques are more chiseled, and their uniforms don't look like the "oven insulation" material from "The Sontaran Experiment" and "The Invasion of Time." However, the most dramatic, if not puzzling change had to be their height. Frequently throughout the episode, references are made to the Sontarans' limited height compared to humans. At one point, a scene of General Staal standing beside human boy genius Luke Rattigan indicates that Staal is relatively the same height as teenage Rattigan. One other attribute that was scrapped in favor of the new design was how the Sontarans sound when they speak. The original series Sontarans spoke with a slow, "out of breath" quiet tone. The new ones are as loud as Rose's mother.

To this day, I wish the writers had chosen to make Colonel Mace the new series Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, because I thought he suited the role perfectly.

Overall, a great episode with a terrific cliffhanger. At the time of writing this review, this episode, along with its accompanying second part is the last story to be contributed to the series by Helen Raynor. A pity, since she and Mark Gatiss were two of the best we were getting besides mastermind Steven Moffat.