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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.