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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Rebel Flesh"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

Following the masterpiece by Neil Gaiman, Matthew Graham was up next with a two part story. This would be the second story contributed to the series by Graham - his previous being "Fear Her."

It's not far fetched to say that "The Rebel Flesh" wasn't as brilliant as the previous episode by Gaiman, but it nevertheless was certainly more in line with what Doctor Who traditionally was than the opening two part story. The setting for the episode roughly follows what we would have seen in the original series - a isolated island, and old medieval castle, a group of scientist that aren't dressed in modern day tank tops and cargo khakis. The setting and format, as well as the storyline are really what carried this one though on the Whoscale. However, there were quite a number of things that I frequently noted while watching it.

The biggest drawback for me in this episode was the fact that the initial problem - the solar storm causing the gangers to go walkabout - was rushed through within the first fifteen minutes of the episode. It was actually so rushed that I recall having difficulty understanding what was going on the first time I watched it. Rushing the openig struck me as strange, considering that the story had the breathing room of two episodes. Normally, a two part story can unfold fluently and relatively slow, such as the case of "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances." Once it was established that the gangers were now teeter-tottering between "almost people" and exact duplicates of their originals, the remainder of the episode focused solely on how the originals refuted the existence of self-aware gangers. At the same time, the gangers themselves struggled to accept their new humanity, and were met with rejection from their originals, as well as Amy. 

That brings me to yet another disappointing element in this episode: The TARDIS crew are essentially divided into three camps on the doppleganger issue; The Doctor taking on a neutral role, as well as a peaceful coalition approach, while Amy sides with the originals and Rory defends Jennifer's ganger. 

By this time, I was absolutely fed up with suggestive themes regarding the stability of Amy and Rory's marriage. This issue is completely irrelevant to the series, or any science fiction series for that matter. In Star Wars, Han Solo and Leia slowly began to fall in love with each the other, and Lucas loosely alluded to this over the course of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but it was never so much that the central narrative of Star Wars had to be pushed aside for the sake of the audience finding out whether or not "it would work out." Simply because, that wasn't the issue, and it wasn't important. Not when you've got a platoon of Stormtroopers knocking at your doorstep.

With that said, I question why this continues to be a running theme in Doctor Who, even after it has been established (and then later undermined) numerous times that Amy's love for Rory and Rory's love for Amy is indisputable. The fact that I'm even having to gripe about "relationships" in a review of a science fiction series like Doctor Who is proof that somewhere, the show has gotten side tracked. This is something that shouldn't even be in a review like this.

The original series demonstrated for twenty-six years that you can have both male and female companions in the TARDIS simultaneously without having to incorporate a romantic theme. Jamie was the Second Doctor's companion for his entire run, save for the opening story for the Second Doctor, "The Power of the Daleks." Over the course of those three seasons, numerous female companions came and went, but never was a romantic plotline introduced, and the series did just fine. Some of the greatest stories in the history of the series were during Troughton's run.

The point is, science fiction needs to stick to being just that - science fiction. Any other genre that is introduced into such a series as a recurring sub-plot can serve no other purpose than to dilute the fundamental aim of the series - to appeal to the science fiction community. 

I've ranted about that enough. Yet another minus for this episode was the overuse of incidental music. This is something that I'm very picky about, and it's often one of the revived series' shortcomings. In the world of film, music is a method of invoking an emotional response from the audience by communicating a particular mood, or it can serve to accompany action sequences to amp up the drama. However, it can also serve as a distraction, particularly during dialogue scenes. If the writing is poor, or the actors aren't great, incidental music can be used to as a smokescreen for these things. The actors all looked great, and the story was fair, but it seems that Murray Gold often uses incidental music as a means of keeping the episode from dropping into a "too slow of a pace for the iGens." Many fans who were introduced to Doctor Who in 2005 and have since watched some of the original series have complained that it was "too slow paced" or "boring" to them. Granted, they are partially correct when noting it's slower pace, but the writing was brilliant and so were the actors, so it didn't need a smokescreen. You had to pay close attention to know what was going on, and music during a critical dialogue scene would only disrupt the viewer's concentration.

To summarize, the solar storm causing otherwise lifeless gangers to become self aware was the basis for the STORY. However, rather than spread that over the two episodes, Graham rushed through that to focus on what would be the basis of DRAMA - how the two sides would cope with each other. In the midst of this drama fest would be a torn Rory looking after the safety of a female ganger, all the while making a jealous Amy furious. The basic recipe for a modern day science fiction program. 

Already this story had disappointed on so many levels, and there was still half of it to go. For me, the story was covered in the opening fifteen minutes. What could there possibly be left to tell that would take an additional episode?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Doctor's Wife"

WHOSCALE: 8.9 out of 10

So far, the second season under the reign of Moffat wasn't looking good in terms of staying within the parameters of the original series. Steven Moffat, who had contributed the highest scoring episodes during the Davies era, had thusfar contributed the lowest scoring, with the exception of "Day of the Moon," which still only managed to score a 6.5.

As I mention occasionally, during the off-season I always follow the production of the upcoming series as closely as I can, so that I can get an idea of which direction the new season might be going. In the case of Series 6/Season 32, I had very little to go on other than some location shooting, so I was very much in the dark about it. When the episode title was revealed, I had the same feelings about it as I did towards "The Doctor's Daughter" before it aired. Like then, I couldn't have been more wrong about this one.

In my opinion, this was perhaps the best episode of the season, contributed by none other than Neil Gaiman, who was responsible for writing the film Coraline, which shared the darker tone that Gaiman presented with this episode. 

The episode title was a total red herring - probably aimed at viewers who were already certain for themselves that River Song was indeed the Doctor's wife - because it never delivers on the literal meaning of it, having no marital reference of any kind. The episode brought back many elements from the original series that really made this one stand out while I watched it. 

Gaiman pretty much rolled into a 45 minute episode what fans of the original series had been pining for since the revival in 2005 - a look at the TARDIS interior corridors, a post-Ninth/Tenth Doctor episode that contains a previous control room, a peek into The Doctor's history,  and a story loosely involving Time Lords that weren't lead by James Bond and weren't stark raving mad.

There are so many little things that I noticed about this episode that instantly reminded me of the original series, and as a result it made the viewing experience more enjoyable - especially for someone who is watching through a pair of Phillip Hinchcliffe's spectacles. That's a figure of speech. I don't really have a pair of his glasses, but you get my meaning. If anyone has watched the original series as much as I have - in particular the Fourth Doctor era - they know very well the ambient sound of a proper barren alien world. "The Doctor's Wife" hits the nail right on the head in this regard. The ambient wind sound on the surface of The House was spot on.

The location for the surface shots were perfect, too. I'm not certain where they shot the scenes, I only know that it looks very familiar to the disused quarries that stood in for alien worlds during the original series. I know it's as overused as a Rory death, but it's the only setting that works without having viewers like me compare it to Tatooine, Abydos,  Hoth, Dagobah, or Earth. Earth settings can sometimes slide by - if it's done right. For example, in the Fourth Doctor story "The Androids of Tara," the planet Tara was very much Earth like, but the episode's narrative made to attempt to draw attention to this fact, and so audiences just ignore the likeness and accept it for what it is - Earth standing in for the planet Tara. One thing that perhaps aided in giving the illusion of alien world was that the scenes were filmed at night, under a dark sky. Similar to "Utopia," this was probably to support the fact that the planet was set under a sky with no stars.

The TARDIS corridor scenes were beautiful. The designers went with the minimalist, hexagonal and roundel look, much like the original series, as well as using the same color palette as the First Doctor's TARDIS interior. Bravo! Beautiful, and I sincerely hope this isn't the last we see of them.

The episode also utilizes another minimalist aspect in the department of characters. Apart from Auntie, Uncle, and Nephew, Idris is the only other guest appearance on screen. Michael Sheen's bellowing voice as The House was superb, and fit the character like a glove. 

Gaiman also elected to have The Doctor work with what he had around him to get himself out of an otherwise hopeless predicament - the TARDIS dematerializes in front of him, with Amy and Rory trapped on board. The Doctor is left in an abandoned junkyard full of wrecked TARDISes or TARDI, not sure which the plural is. With the help of Idris, who hold's The Doctor's TARDIS' conscience, The Doctor is able to build a make-shift TARDIS to come save the day. The make shift TARDIS room flying with the exterior exposed reminded me of the Third Doctor story "Inferno," one of my favorites from that season. Gaiman also included an Ood in this episode, which we had not seen since "The End of Time." Moffat improved the look of the Ood without a doubt, with lime green eyes and an orb.

If you're still reading, then you know by now that I have very little to bark at with this one. The only two things for me mainly were yet another Rory death, (we're up to five now!), and the somewhat heart wrenching farewell between The Doctor and Idris at the end. 

The music was much more subtle this time around, although it did get a bit orchestrated at times, for the most part it was dark and subtle. 

Much less use of skaky cam in this one, which was a plus. I failed to mention in my review of "The Curse of the Black Spot" how much shaky cam was used during that episode.

A brilliant episode, and it was certainly a breath of life after sitting through four episodes and having to spend an entire review with nothing positive to say. Hat's off to Mr. Gaiman, and I look forward to other stories he contributes, if he does.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Curse of the Black Spot"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Following the season's opening two part story written by Steven Moffat, show newcomer Stephen Thompson is up to bat. 

Let me get something off my chest first: From this point on, the show will no longer be consider "Doctor Who," but instead called "The Fantasy Adventures of Amy and Rory."

It truly hurts to give this episode such a low score, because having kept up with production the year before, I was aware that much of the filming of this story would be set on a pirate ship. Although it was obvious that BBC did this to coincide with the release of the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, this episodes fundamental plot had tremendous potential to be a great episode of Doctor Who, in much the way the Fifth Doctor story "Enlightenment" was. However, much of that potential was flushed down the proverbial toilet in favor of senseless, mind-numbing drama amperage. When I say drama, I mean drama that isn't a natural result of the story, but is instead "forced" by scenes, music, sound effects, dialogue, etc. that in no form or fashion make their existence in the episode plausible. 

Russell T Davies was notorious for this kind of page-filling gimmick, but I think this episode has to give him a run for his money, in both meaningless drama and plot holes. I'll start with the absolutely pointless scenes that did nothing more than serve as a drama injection:

1) The Dancer (Chris Jarman), is marked by the Siren  the same time Rory does, and both are intoxicated by the Siren's song - which I'll get to in a moment. Both are marked, both intoxicated. Just to show audiences what happens when the Siren contacts a marked individual (since it was deliberately omitted in the pre-title sequence to add mystery), Jarman's character is allowed by all others standing right next to him - even his own shipmates - to just waltz up to the Siren. BAM! Jarman's character vanishes, and now everybody has a look of fright on their face. This sequence was entirely unnecessary, and is not even remotely plausible. It was written to reveal what we didn't see in the pre title sequence, as if that matters. I don't care WHAT the Siren does, what matters is that each time some is marked, they disappear without a trace!

2) The second time this happens, Toby accidentally drops the crown onto the deck. Everyone in the scene knows that the reflections are the method of entrance/exit by the Siren, and yet they all just stand and watch as the crown rolls across the deck and comes to a rest. No one panics until AFTER the Siren appears. What the fudgecake???????!!! That is so mind numbingly stupid that it makes me want to skip to the next episode. What's worse was the whole sequence was done in slow motion, to really pump up the drama factor. To quote Falco Lombardi, "Geez Loweez!"

3) The third pointless scene immediately follows number two. Toby has been marked since he was introduced. After the Siren appears, Toby is allowed to walk to her, his father watching the entire time and The Doctor. Again, no one goes in to "Oh noo!!!!" mode until AFTER Toby has been taken by the Siren. How is this scene believable???!! Captain Avery, who previously showed deep concern for his son, just lets him walk into the Siren's hands? (Literally.)

4) Why was Toby even in this story? His character had absolutely, positively, without any doubt NO PURPOSE. The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that he was there purely for the sake of heightening drama (more). Perhaps the producers think a kid in the episode helps the younger audience relate? Listen noobs, if you need a kid in a show of adults so that you can relate, you don't need to be watching. I grew up with Captain Kirk, Captain Picard, Roj Blake, Kerr Avon and Commander Sinclair. I didn't need a kid in Star Trek to relate with Spock's preference for logic. I didn't need a kid in Blake's 7 to relate with Avon's lack of trust towards others. 

Now on to the plot holes. Oh, brother. This will take a minute. 

1) After it was established that the Siren could only enter through a stable reflection, the remaining crew decide to hole up in the ship's magazine until a storm comes and disrupts the ocean's surface, thus making a stable reflection impossible. There's violent wind and rain, and Rory get's thrown overboard. Unable to swim, apparently. The Doctor elects to release the Siren so that she will save a drowning Rory. To accomplish this, The Doctor opens a barrel of water on deck. So how did the wind, rain, and tossing of the ship not disrupt that reflection as well?

2) Probably the biggest plot hole of the entire episode was when The Doctor, Avery and Amy agree to prick their fingers to lure the Siren out. Still in the storm, the barrel is closed, yet seconds after pricking their fingers, the Siren appears without needing a stable reflection. 

3) Rory was saved by the Siren and placed on life support. While on the system, Rory is conscious, breathing normally and is talking to Amy. In order to breath normally, your lungs must be devoid of any kinds of fluids, particularly ocean water. When the life support is turned off, suddenly Rory jerks into a spasm because all of his breath is gone and he can't breathe. Let's assume the first part is plausible, and the Siren has removed the water from his lungs in order to sustain his life. Why would Rory die when taken off the life support? Now let's assume the latter is correct -  Rory is still on the verge of drowning. How is he breathing normally? How you GET your oxygen can be changed - technology can bypass your nose and mouth to get oxygen to your lungs, but once your lungs are incapacitated, the body has no way to filter the oxygen into the blood stream. Both cannot be true.

4) The same problem as three goes a step further at the close of the episode, where all of Avery's crew are shown to be off life support now, without gasping for air. Granted, most of them had minor cuts, but Toby was described as being deathly ill.

Now that I've got the most notable drawbacks out of the way, I'll touch on a few other things that really brought this episode down. 

The idea of the Siren was great, and I can see why it was necessary to cast a real-life model (Lily Cole) as the part, but her singing was a little to much like what we had just recently sat through in "A Christmas Carol." Once again, the singing is directly tied to the plot, this time as anesthesia. What really made me cringe was just after The Dance is taken, the Siren's singing changes notes to sync with the background music. 
On the subject of music, there was a little too much "Jack Sparrow" towards the end. The opening scene was scored well, but as the episode progressed to a climax, the music became more and more overpowering. 

Another thing that bothered me was how Captain Avery relatively took the place as the companion for this story. 

For those of you keeping up with how many times Rory has died, this episode makes his fourth death since his introduction as a TARDIS member in "The Vampires of Venice:"
Amy's Choice
Cold Blood
Day of the Moon (although he didn't actually get killed)

The final scene where Amy revives Rory was perhaps the hardest for me to watch. Gone With the Wind music, tear-filled eyes, hugs, kisses, lovey dovey Amy and Rory with The Doctor taking a place in the background of the scene. At this point, it was clear to me that once again we were dealing with a season that would chiefly revolve around the companions, and not The Doctor. Just to recap since 2005:

Series 1/Season 27 revolved around Rose, her connection to Bad Wolf, and her ultimately saving the universe from the Daleks.

Series 2/Season 28 further revolved chiefly around Rose and her growing feelings for the now regenerated- into-heart-throb David Tennant Tenth Doctor, as well as her making a decision to leave Mickey completely.

Series 3/Season 29 was probably the best in this department, focusing mainly on the words of The Face of Boe and the return of The Master. However, in the three part finale, the companion yet again is the one to saved the day.

Series 4/Season 30 introduced a more likeable companion for Whovians in the form of Donna Noble, but again disappoints at the close of the season by having it roughly revolve around Donna's inability to avoid The Doctor, and once more has the companion save the day from the Daleks. When was the last time The Doctor beat the Daleks? Remembrance of the Daleks?

Series 5/Season 31 introduced the Pandorica as the story arc element, but once again much of the season was aimed at exploring the personal relationship between Amy and Rory, Rory's jealousy towards The Doctor, and Amy's inability to choose between the two. In short, a rehash of Series 2/Season 28.

I apologize for this review being so lengthly, but I had a lot to cover. In closing, this episode had the potential to be something equal or greater than "Enlightenment," which is saying a lot, but was lost in the producers continuing effort to make a science fiction television program appeal to EVERYONE. I will never get through saying how foolish this approach is. You're either sci-fi or you're not. You can't be both, and if you try, you're only going to end up gaining half an audience from each genre. Doctor Who was, has, and should always be pure science fiction. If you eliminate the soapy drama, yes - fan girlies and Jersey Shore fans are going to put down the remote and walk away, but in their place will come the Harry Potter fans, the Tron fans, the Trekkies and so on. 

Doctor Who has the capacity to go anywhere, anytime. It should not be restricted by the wants and desires of an audience that get their kicks off two people being in a troubled relationship, love triangles, scandal and sexuality.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Doctor Who - "Day of the Moon"

WHOSCALE: 6.5 out of 10

Once again, Moffat opens the second part to this two part story with a completely different setting and time frame from the last episode's cliffhanger. The first five to ten minutes - like the first half - was tremendously fast paced, mainly focused on bringing viewers up to speed on the events in the last three months (the time we are told as elapsed since the close of "The Impossible Astronaut" and the opening of "Day of the Moon.")

After taking into consideration what all Moffat indicated took place BETWEEN the two episodes, I began thinking to myself, this could have been almost a 10-part story, up there with the likes of "The Daleks' Masterplan" and "The War Games." Had we still been on serial format, that's probably what we would have got. There was so much potential there for a serial, and it's shame that Moffat had to skim over it all in a few brief clips. Even though it was shown that the four members of the TARDIS crew had been separated over the course of the past three months, a series of episodes filling this gap could have easily followed them each in much the same way we followed the TARDIS crew in "The Keys of Marinus," where The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan were separated over different continents on Marinus, eventually reuniting with each other near the end of the story, and it was only a six-part serial.

However, things seem to take a slight upward turn in regards to the Whoscale when Canton and Amy arrive at the orphanage. During this sequence, Moffat turned up the creepiness level, toned down the background music to a Whoscale-friendly level, and slowed the pace down as well. This was of course, short lived. 

Perhaps the most annoying thing Moffat was doing at this point was still toying with the whole "Amy hasn't made up her mind yet" theme. Seriously? We're still on this? "Flesh And Stone," "The Vampires of Venice," "Amy's Choice," and "The Big Bang" have all tinkered with this theme, and it was my understanding that we had resolved this issue at the close of last season with the wedding of Amy and Rory. Yet, in spite of the couple saying their vows, Moffat still seems to get a giggle out of giving fan girlies something to gossip about. Speaking of Amy, one thing I failed to mention in my previous review was how Moffat suddenly dropped this sub-plot on us. A little girl is screaming for help in an old abandoned warehouse - yes, this seems an appropriate time to sit down with The Doctor (NOT RORY, MIND YOU!) and tell him you're PREGNANT. What the fudge?!! Come on, Moffat! That's one of Davies' stunts! You don't have to do it, too. 

So Amy's pregnant, then she's not. The she is, then she's not. Then we're lead to believe that it might be The Doctor's, and not Amy's. Oh no, SCANDAL IN THE TARDIS!! Why is this pathetic soap scum in a science fiction television series that's about traveling time and space? Moffat, you can't appeal to EVERYONE. There are people out there who just DON'T LIKE the fantasy sci-fi thing. They like scandal, cheating, heart breaks, heart throbs, relationships rising and falling, and all the drama that comes with it. Those people have Jersey Shore. Those people have The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. You can't make a series set in space appeal to those people, unless you make it Jersey Shore: In Space. Granted, you can do that, but that's not what Doctor Who is about, now is it? If you want to write Doctor Who, then write for the audience that watches because it's Doctor Who, not the audience that's divided on whether it's The Doctor's baby or whether it's Rory's.

Now before some fan girl goes bananas and makes a comment rant, I'm fully aware that Amy's pregnancy played a key role later in the season, but it could have fulfilled that role without needing to be smothered in soapy soap opera.

Amy is once again snatched away from Rory in much the same fashion as she was in last season's "The Hungry Earth."

The episode seemed to spend a lot of time uncovering who the mysterious little girl is, only to address the Silent occupation issue in the last twenty minutes. It was clever how the occupation was resolved, but something about this solution still didn't strike me just right. The Doctor didn't lead the way into this solution. In fact, The Doctor has consistently relied on his companions to take the upper hand, as he has been known to do often since the revival in 2005. This episode is a clear example, where we are left ASSUMING that the humans were able to take care of the Silents. In other words, The Doctor was already leaving before it was confirmed that the Silents were gone. I didn't see the Fourth Doctor doing this. He would have stayed until he was absolutely certain the threat was over. 

River is dropped off back at Stormcage (again), and we learn that the kiss The Doctor and River share in this scene is not only their first, but their last. Be sure to make a mental note of this when you read my review of this season's finale.

In another unusual move for The Doctor, the whole business about the Silents, their purpose, etc. is dropped completely in favor of some unrelated adventures.

In closing, looking back at the two part story as a whole, there was so much of the story told in either flashbacks or montages, that each part felt more like completely independent stand alone episodes. As bad as this sounds, I think it was a complex story that had to be crammed into 90 minutes of screen time, and the end result was a fuster cluck of a mess. Unless Moffat is prepared to change the series back over to serial format, whether it be 45 minute episodes or 25 minute episodes, I don't think a story this complex should be attempted again. If it is, it's going to need no less than three full episodes to itself. Imagine if Russell T Davies had tried to tell the "Last of the Time Lords" trilogy in only two episodes? There's no way he could have effectively squeezed the events of "Utopia" into the opening of "The Sound of Drums."

One final note - the last scene in this episode was probably the most intriguing . The little girl that occupied the space suit is last seen in an alley regenerating, revealing that she is either a Time Lord, or possesses characteristics similar to one.

The opening story came to close, with many questions still left unanswered. It wasn't the best start, and even though we were only two episodes in, it was already looking like Series 5/Season 31 was going to be the golden season since 2005.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Impossible Astronaut"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

Following the Christmas special, Steven Moffat penned the opening story to Series 6/Season 32. In addition to this being the official start of the second season under the reign of Moffat, this also marked the first time since 2005 that the arrangement of episodes in a season don't follow the same pattern. Series 1-5/Seasons 27-31 all opened with the first three episodes being single-episode stories, followed by a two-part story, then one or two singles, another two parter, one or two more singles, then a finale two parter. Moffat elected to open this season with a two part story. 

As with the last episode, this one was also a bit difficult for me to score on my Whoscale. However, off the top of my head - after just watching it in a classic Doctor Who frame of mind - I can point out two or three things that I immediately noted. 
One is the pacing of the episode. This is beyond any doubt the fastest paced two part story Moffat has contributed. There was a lot to cover in this episode, such as the blue envelopes, Amy and Rory meeting The Doctor, further information regarding the true identity of River Song, as well a TARDIS full of questions. 

A question I would love answered by Moffat is why the story opens with Amy and Rory at home enjoying married life, after he made it clear at the close of "The Big Bang" that Amy and Rory wished to continue traveling with The Doctor even after they were married. He even further indicated this in "A Christmas Carol," where Amy and Rory are on their honeymoon, but still traveling with The Doctor. Even at the close of that episode, neither of them gave any indication that they wished to return to Leadworth. So why were the two of them home? And why was The Doctor off on his own without them? I understand the TECHNICAL reason for it - that if the episode opened with Amy and Rory already aboard the TARDIS, it would have been practically impossible to introduce into the mix a "future" Doctor, which is who Amy and Rory initially meet - a Doctor that is some 200 years older than the one at the close of "A Christmas Carol." Nevertheless, no reason is given in terms of storyline why Amy and Rory are back home. This isn't the behavior of a companion(s). They don't travel with the Doctor, take a vacation, then join back up with him later. When they do leave, it's normally only an episode away from The Doctor meeting a new one, so how was The Doctor able to lollygag about the cosmos for 200 years without a companion? And showing now signs of aging? Yes people, Time Lords DO age normally in each incarnation. The Doctor wasn't born an old, white haired man.

As I'll note as I review later episodes in this season, Moffat was surely working on a story arc that is spanning the entire length of the Eleventh Doctor's era, so some of my questions may be answered further down the road. It's not uncommon for Moffat to tinker with complex paradoxes with this writing, and this season is no exception.

Another thing I noted was a more regular use of shaky cam. In some scenes, it isn't Bourne Supremacy skaky, but it isn't steady. This is most noticeable throughout the entire course of the Arizona scenes, from the picnic beside the lake until Amy, Rory, and River watch Darth Vader....I mean Anakin, no wait...sorry thought I'd flipped over to Return of the Jedi there for a second.

Have I mentioned the pacing? We're only ten minutes into the first episode of a two part story, and already Amy, Rory, River, Canton and The Doctor have received blue envelopes, met in a diner, synced diaries, gone on a picnic by a Lake, seen a Silent, forgot it, an astronaut has walked out of the lake, briefly spoke to The Doctor, KILLED The Doctor before he can regenerate, found  a conveniently placed boat, placed The Doctor's body in it, doused him with gasoline, burned his body in the lake, met back at the diner, and met up with a younger version of The Doctor they just met. Still with me? 

I think it's fair to say that Moffat went just a little too far overboard with twisted plotlines and paradoxes. The first time I watched this, I had no clue whatsoever what was going on. The first ten minutes had me so confused that I couldn't even enjoy it. 

The episode finally slows things down a notch once The Doctor arrives at the Oval Office and meets President Nixon and a younger Canton. The Doctor tracks down where the mysterious phone call is coming from, and off in the TARDIS they go. Even at the warehouse, the pacing is still relatively steady, and doesn't feel rushed. Still tons of shaky cam here, though.

The emotional wreck Amy was at the lake after The Doctor's death made me cringe. WAAAAYYY too much drama there, Moffat. The Doctor is dead, yes. But the vocal soundtrack? Amy sobbing over his body, telling him to wake up? A little over the top, in my opinion.

Perhaps this episode's one saving grace is the Silents themselves. A terrific design, both in nature and appearance. Another that I felt is worth noting is the close ups of The Doctor at the lake while he's talking to the astronaut. The look of those shots - lighting, background - reminded me of classic Who quarry days, so a few points.

Don't get me wrong, it was a brilliant idea, but the audience can't keep up at this pace. If the first episode of a two part story required being rushed this much to squeeze the story into two parts, it should be more than two parts. In my opinion, this first episode could have EASILY been spread over two 45 minute episodes, leaving the second half of the story to be told over two more.

Since this is the first review of this season, I'll make it clear now: Moffat has been my favorite writer, but the criteria of a Doctor Who episode doesn't change, so from now on, I can't show Moffat any mercy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doctor Who - "A Christmas Carol"

WHOSCALE: 3 out of 10

With the close of Series 5/Season 31, it was time for showrunner Steven Moffat to try his writing hand at the one other element of the revived series carried over from the Davies era - a Christmas special. 

I had been keeping close tabs on the production of this episode long before it aired, and both Moffat and Smith commented on the episode prior to it's air date, describing it as "very Christmasy." 

The title of the episode is obviously taken from the Charles Dickens book, which is in a way somewhat ironic, considering that the Ninth Doctor actually met Dickens as he was reading "A Christmas Carol" onstage in "The Unquiet Dead."

Overall, it's no secret to even the most casual viewer what Moffat did with this story - it is essentially Dickens' famous story set on another planet, with certain elements altered or added to give the episode the Narnia-style fantasy tone.

Even as I write this review, I find myself having trouble deciding on a rating that would do the episode justice, but at the same time not contradict the purpose of this review. This review is, after all, a comparison this episode to the likes of the first twenty-six seasons of the series. 

Holiday specials - the Christmas variety in particular - are always a coin toss when it comes to comparing them to traditional Doctor Who. It has always been my firm belief that there is a wrong and a right approach to this type of thing. Unfortunately for Moffat, it pains me to say that this episode is as close to the wrong approach as you can get. I'm speaking in terms of being a Doctor Who episode, of course. Granted, it was a Christmas special, and as such was intended to be just that - an episode filled with Christmas overtones, happy endings, no deaths, no violence, no over the top drama - just a frolicky romp through the snow that kids and adults could watch together on Christmas Day.  

There are elements of this episode that were neat and probably could have served a full-on Doctor Who episode well, such as the fish being able to swim through the fog, but looking back at the last 60 minutes I just watched, it generally feels like I just sat through Moffat's on personal interpretation of Dickens' story, which is what this episode was. There's no room for debate here.

Just for comparison, a decent Christmas Special for this review would be something along the lines of "The Runaway Bride" or "The End of Time." Both stories were set on Christmas, and did contain subtle holiday undertones, but 90 percent of the episodes were solely focused on the issues at hand - The Racnoss and The Master,  respectively. Never did I think I would see the day when I would use RUSSELL T DAVIES AGAINST STEVEN MOFFAT in a comparison, but in the case of Moffat's first special, Davies still holds the most points, by a long shot. To be fair though, Davies' first special was no pageant winner either - "The Christmas Invasion" painfully introduced us to the Tenth Doctor. However, with two three specials under Davies' belt that did reasonably well on the Whoscale, I can only hope that Moffat steps up his game in the future. 

Now that I've bored you to tears ranting about Moffat rehashing an old Christmas tale, I want touch on some of the things in this episode that did some serious damage to it's score. 

Foremost has to be the absolute and total rip off of Abrams' Star Trek film. Shaky cam, a starship bridge, exaggerated lens flares, and a character that could pass for Geordi La Forge. Need I say more? After the special aired, I noted it's likeness to fellow fans, and several fans indicated that this rip off was more than likely done as a mockery of Abrams' film, rather than an attempt to "follow a trend." Nevertheless, this kind of ridiculous kind of film making - the lens flares and shaky cam - has no place in an episode of Doctor Who, mockery or otherwise. 

The other usual deductions were present - overpowering, emotional orchestrated music, complete with a singing of "Silent Night." 

Another was how Abigail's secret was slowly alluded to - it seemed like Moffat wanted the audience believing that she might be pregnant. Maybe that was just me.

There's really nothing else I can say about it in regards to my review. To summarize, Amy and Rory were on a ship, about to crash land into an alien planet (which has a steam-punk appearance and still celebrates Christmas), and in order to prevent this catastrophe, The Doctor takes the longest route available, exercising more time travel in this single episode then the entire previous season put together. 

A great story idea, but it relied far too much on Dickens' original text.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Big Bang"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

This episode marked the completion of the first season under Moffat's supervision, and served to tidy up a lot of open threads Moffat has started over the course of the season. I remember seeing the previous episode for the first time, and for a whole week pondering who on Earth The Doctor could get himself out of a sealed Pandorica, and I always came up with nothing.

In addition to showing the usual "Previously..." clips from "The Pandorica Opens," the pre-title sequence for this episode opens identically to the post-title sequence scenes in "The Eleventh Hour," only this time no TARDIS crashes in Amelia Pond's backyard, and stars have become something of a fairy tale, considering that they disappeared along with the rest of creation in Roman times. Amelia is lead to the local museum, where the Pandorica is on display - having been preserved throughout history. The Pandorica opens (again), but reveals the occupant to be Amy Pond, which is of course the aged-to-early-twenties Amelia Pond. I remember being so utterly confused at that moment, and wondered if Moffat could explain such a twist logically, if it could be explained at all.

After the title sequence, the episode picks up where we left off, with Rory mourning the death of Amy. The Doctor appears in a flash, donning a Fez and a mop, and instructs Rory to open the Pandorica (which at the time had just been sealed with The Doctor inside) using his sonic screwdriver. Rory follows his instructions, and Amy is then placed in the Pandorica to be preserved in stasis until her younger self (Amelia) makes contact with the Pandorica in 1996. You follow? It's always been my intent with my reviews to avoid explaining the plot and synopsis of a particular episode, but when dealing with some of the stories Moffat dreams up, it's almost necessary to explain his paradoxes in lament terms just so my readers can understand what I'm commenting on. The first few minutes explains how Amy ends up in the Pandorica, as well as explains how The Doctor is able to escape captivity to even materialize in front of Rory in a Fez.

From this point, the episode shifts from the Stonehenge location to the interior of the museum in 2010, where most of the story is resolved. There were some absolutely terrific Doctor moments in this episode, that I felt truly represented the mentality of the classic Doctors. One such occasion was when a near-death future Doctor appears, and moments before dying whispers something to his "younger" self. What was so reminiscent was how carefully The Doctor listened to himself, knowing that anything he had to tell himself is always important. This is further alluded to at the beginning of Series 6/Season 32, where it's indicated that The Doctor trust no one more in the universe than himself. The rooftop scenes were done well, also.

Another similar instance is when it's revealed that The Doctor's words with Amy in the forest aboard the Byzantium is actually from a future version, explaining why the "Flesh And Stone" Doctor was without his tweed jacket, but when he holds Amy's hands, he's wearing it again. The Doctor assures Amy that he isn't sure what the cracks are in her wall, but that he's "working it out," referring to himself in third person, having seen his past self several feet away analyzing sonic screwdriver readings.

As I mentioned in the last review, it was nice for once not to have an alien invasion as the blockbuster season finale plot line. Something I wanted to be sure and note was the fact that The Doctor took matters into his own hands on several occasions, and effectively took it upon himself to restore the universe to it's previous form. I say this mainly in contrast to Russell T. Davies' first two part finale, "Bad Wolf" and "The Parting Of The Ways," where the companion saved the day.

Moffat took care to not overlook any obvious plot holes, and even chose to incorporate some of the questions viewers might be asking into the episode. The Doctor verbally ponders how a petrified Dalek could be restored - or even exist at all for that matter - considering the Daleks' home planet, Skaro, would have been wiped out along with the rest of the universe; therefore preventing their creation altogether.

The resolution of the story seemed to be wrapped up rather quickly - within the first half of the episode. It wasn't because it was rushed - on the contrary, the pacing of this episode seem to relatively match that of the previous, and it didn't feel like key plot points were having to be crammed into 30 minutes. The story was wrapped up evidently in order to reserve the last half of the episode to closing open threads regarding Amy and Rory's personal life. The couple are married, and in what is perhaps the least explicable thing Moffat has ever wrote, an otherwise erased from history Doctor is restored to present time by the almighty powers of Amy's memory. Once again, we're on this mental thing. It was clear this was a recurring theme throughout the season - that of major events changing according to a character's willpower. I let the resurrection of Rory slide because it was reasonably explained - whomever looted Amy's home for tidbits to build a scenario on included a picture of Amy and Rory in centurion dress. This doesn't however excuse the fact that Rory was nothing more than an Auton, and yet again by sheer power of will, he's turned into a human - that still retains Auton characteristics, such as immortality (maybe this means he won't die anymore?) and a still fully functional flip-down hand gun. I don't mean a sidearm, either. I mean an actual HAND gun. But the business of The Doctor being restored simply because Amy remembered him - how does that work? It was never explained how Amy's thoughts alone could resurrect someone who was otherwise non-existent.

The soundtrack was a bit better this time, being much more subtle during the museum scenes, but it later seemed to escalate into full orchestrated mix again for The Doctor's reappearance.

After the reception, The Doctor scurries off back to his TARDIS, exchanging a few final words with River Song, and moments later is joined by newly weds Amy and Rory.

On that note, the season closes. The change in production staff was showing considerable promise, as fans of the original series had been treated a full course meal with Series 5/Season 31. The show still had a long way to go, but seemed to be slipping back into the imaginative science fiction it was during it's first 26 seasons.

Doctor Who - "The Pandorica Opens"

WHOSCALE: 7 out of 10

Steven Moffat was next in line to write the season's two part finale. This was perhaps one of the most anticipated episodes of the season, as a lot of viewers were expecting to get some answers to many questions that had arisen throughout the season.

We all knew that Moffat was capable of writing some clever plot twists, but I have to say he outdid himself with Series 5/Season 31. If you're one of the casual fan girls that watches only because "Tennant was hot," then this definitely wasn't your favorite. I'm a seasoned sci-fi fan, and it took me at least two viewings to figure out what all was coming together in this episode.

However, to be fair to my readers, I'm going to set aside the fact that the plot was top notch, and conduct this review as a comparative to the original series.

One of the first things that kind of put me off was the length of the pre-title sequence, which essentially took eight to nine minutes setting up the backdrop for the episode. It's not a real biggie for me, but as I've said many times, I'm not a big fan of a "Star Trek/X-Files/Babylon 5" style pre-title sequence. I know almost every modern day television show uses the format, but the three I named are the ones I most associate it with.

This may have been intentional considering the episode dealt with digging up old hidden artifacts, but the music score for this episode seemed to have the ring of Indiana Jones, particularly during the scene where The Doctor, Amy, and Song enter the Pandorica chamber.
Speaking of Dr. Jones, there was another scene during the pre-title sequence that was almost plucked word-for-word from "Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom," where River Song slips some micro-explosives (in place of poison) into Dorium's drink, forcing him to sell the Vortex Manipulator in exchange for a diffuser (instead of the antidote).

While I'm on the subject of music, the episode seemed to be well over-scored. Apart from a couple of dialogue scenes between characters in the underhenge, everything else was coated with a John Williams-ish orchestral score.

Moffat seemed to continue the running theme of recurring characters, a theme that was common during the Davies era. Virtually all of the major characters from the season have a role in this episode - Liz 10 from "The Beast Below," Bracewell and Churchhill from "Victory Of The Daleks," River Song from "The Time Of Angels" and "Flesh And Stone," and Vincent Van Gogh from "Vincent And The Doctor." Although each character seemed to have a relevant role, I think it could have been communicated without having to touch on every past encounter by The Doctor. If one had to be pointless, it was Liz 10, who was doing nothing else other than guarding the Royal Collection in the 52nd Century, which actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering she's the Queen, and should be tending to her space-bound kingdom of citizens, Smilers and Winders.

Rory is resurrected (again) in this episode - this time as an Auton, although once again no character addresses them as "Autons," only as "duplicates."

I think Moffat handled another chapter of River Song's story well again, electing to not have the episode focus on River, but rather have her tag along as another companion to The Doctor. River's universal and temporal experience is only matched by The Doctor's, so it's kind of like getting a Romana on occasion.

Perhaps the most notable part of this episode is the climax, in which a season's worth of wondering what's inside the Pandorica is revealed. I don't think many viewers saw that one coming, because it certainly hit me broadside.

The episode closes on a cliffhanger, in traditional multi-episode Doctor Who form, with The Doctor trapped in the Pandorica, Amy shot dead by the Auton Rory, River trapped in the exploding TARDIS which would seem to be the cause of the mysterious cracks, and more seriously, the erasure of the entire universe, save for Earth itself. (Go figure.) Probably what got Moffat the biggest score with this one was the fact that for once, we weren't in downtown London or Cardiff fighting off a Dalek invasion for the season finale.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Lodger"

WHOSCALE: 6.5 out of 10

Tackling the "character-lite" episode for this season was Gareth Roberts, who had previously penned "The Unicorn And The Wasp" for the Tenth Doctor. It should be noted that this episode is based on a short comic strip that was published during the Tenth Doctor's run, and as such was written for Tennant's Doctor. However, Roberts seemed to see the problem with having the episode soley focus on The Doctor living as a flatmate, and so a mystery element was introduced.

This was yet again another episode that I have mixed feelings about. So many things were done well, and so many weren't. As an episode of Doctor Who, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but when I look at it through my Whoscale goggles, I'm not so sure what to think.

Roberts loosely followed the same format that Moffat did with "Blink" by having the character with minimal screen time (in this case, Amy) still be actively involved in the story. Amy's absence from the episode is explained in a logical manner. Instead of just having her out of the episode altogether like Davies did with "Love And Monsters," Amy continues to offer information, clues and advice from the confines of the dematerialized TARDIS. It's always a good thing when the writer intertwines the two lead characters' roles in a way that we as viewers don't suspect it's a "character-lite" episode.

There were several nods to the original series in this episode, and some less obsessive fans might not have caught them. Some were obvious - The Doctor giving Craig a brief biography of himself, with flashes of the first three Doctors, and others weren't so obvious - If anyone's seen "Spearhead From Space" with the Third Doctor, then you couldn't help but be reminded of it during Smith's shower scene. Another that was tremendously vague was when Craig recruits The Doctor for his local football match, and The Doctor asks, "Football...is that the one with the sticks?" - harking back to the Fifth Doctor's skilled cricket abilities. It would seem that he also possesses top notch football skills, as well. In addition to sprinkles of classic Doctor Who, there were numerous other quirks about this episode that fit the bill for what you'd expect from The Doctor, such as his football jersey number being "11." Another was The Doctor's reactions to indications of romance. Craig explains the "understanding" in case The Doctor needs some alone time with wink, and The Doctor winks back in acknowledgement, immediately following the response by questioning why he would want alone time.

The episode did well to keep us on the edge of our seats with the volume a little higher so we wouldn't miss a beat after the clocks starting going awry at Craig's and The Doctor's flat. Since I'm in the States, I had to watch new episodes online, and when the time loop at the end of the football match started, I remember thinking that my video played had froze up.

I think what may have me so undecided on this episode's score is because it kept weaving back and forth between two separate stories - one of The Doctor experiencing domestic life with Craig, the other of the mystery upstairs. Now, don't get me wrong - the "weaving" this episode was doing was not so abrupt that it felt like two plot lines running parallel to each other (i.e. "Boom Town"). Roberts did well in mixing the mystery of what was upstairs in with the premise of the comic strip, also titled "The Lodger."

As with a lot of new episodes since the revival in 2005, this one took the biggest hit on the Whoscale in the last ten minutes. Something about the resolutions of plots just isn't sorted with the writers. Like so many before - to the point of almost becoming a revived series tradition - the "companions" for this episode save the day, and not by some clever thinking or application of logic - no, by using the same incredible mental powers that Bracewell used in "Victory Of The Daleks." Basically, by "wishing" the baddies away, Craig saves The Doctor and Sophie. If you're a diehard reader of this blog, this be sure to remember that resolution when reading my review of "Closing Time" in Series 6/Season 32. The phrase "kiss the girl!" just seems like it was plucked out of a Disney film, so it just didn't feel very Doctor Who-ish.

There were some VERY intriguing aspects about this episode. I remember my reaction the first time seeing the interior of the upstairs flat, and immediately thinking, "OH, S***! IT'S A TARDIS!!!" The fact that we never actually find out who owns that TARDIS makes it even better, with the mysterious visitor getting away scott free. I recall speculation floating around after it aired - fans were guessing The Master, Omega, River Song, Susan Foreman and everything between.

It wasn't has close to original Who has Chibnall's Silurian story, but it seemed to have roughly enough ingredients to make it fair well on the Whoscale.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Doctor Who - "Vincent And The Doctor"

WHOSCALE: 6 out of 10

Following the Silurian two part story, Richard Curtis penned the next episode. This story was intended to be the season's historical installment, as was "Tooth And Claw" for Series 2/Season 28, "The Shakespeare Code" for the Series 3/Season 29, and "The Unicorn And The Wasp" for Series 4/Season 30. While all of these previous installments have featured a historic figure as one of the main characters, in each case the stories were generally set around the Doctor Who style mystery/monster format, with the historic character being "along for the ride" so to speak in much the same way The Doctor's companions were meant to be.

However, in the case of "Vincent And The Doctor," it's clear that Curtis abandoned this format to focus more on teaching viewers about Vincent Van Gogh, and less about making it an episode of Doctor Who that features a historic character.

First off, I'll point out a technical oversight that I noticed before the title sequence. The episode opens with The Doctor and Amy visiting an art museum that contains all of Van Gogh's paintings. The Doctor is intrigued by one painting in particular of a church, where a mysterious creature was depicted in one of the church windows. This odd depiction convinces The Doctor to travel to the past to talk to Van Gogh personally about the painting, which serves as The Doctor's reason for visiting Van Gogh to begin with. Clearly, the creature would have wreaked havoc on the Earth by the time 2010 had rolled around, but oddly enough, the creature seemed to keep quiet all those years. Now, one might could explain this by saying that the painting was the same one done when The Doctor and Amy were with him at the church, but at the close of the episode, the church painting is shown to NOT have a creature in the window, which would seem to indicate THAT painting is the one Van Gogh did with The Doctor.

Throughout the course of the episode, I had mixed feelings about it. Sometimes it felt like Doctor Who, sometimes it didn't - but more often than not, it didn't. The problem I think was that Curtis was so wound up in trying to educate viewers instead of telling a gem of Doctor Who. Granted, the purpose of a "historical episode" is to be a rough history lesson, and the original series did several of these during Hartnell's first two seasons, but having not been told they were historic episodes, I never would have known because the plot was so tastefully done. "The Aztecs" comes to mind - one of my favorites from the Hartnell era - where a history lesson about the ancient Aztecs spanned four episodes without requiring a single monster. My point is, educational episodes are great, as long as you don't make it OBVIOUS that being educational is what you're trying to be. Besides, most children are more inclined to absorb such facts if they aren't aware that's they're being fed educational data.

Curtis minimized the use of CGI in this story by having the Krafayis be invisible to everyone in the episode except Van Gogh. This turns out to be the reason behind some of the accusations Van Gogh had got by the townspeople about being mad. Kudos for that, but it was one of those CGI-dodging gimmicks that's a bit obvious to the trained viewer. OF COURSE it's invisible. I'm not encouraging the use of CGI by no means, but there are other ways to get around it besides simply having the appearance of the monster absent for the most part of the episode, and writing it being invisible (and blind, apparently). Animatronics comes to mind. Yeah, it's a lot more time consuming to build a puppet and shoot some forced-perspective shots with it, but the pay off is worth it. If you look on YouTube, you've got five-year olds posting tutorial videos about using Adobe AfterEffects. Most kids know the difference between CGI and real, tangible puppets, so they're more likely to be scared behind the sofa by a physical puppet than a CGI monster. There's some body language that CGI just can't mimic, and it's a dead giveaway. The kids may know it's a mechanically operated puppet, but to them, its a REAL puppet nonetheless, and they can't help but wonder if it's going to be hiding under their bed later that night. The worst a CGI monster can do is crash your PC or Mac.

The episode also had atleast 30% t0 40% of it's shots done in shaky-cam, so do I really need to rant again about why I subtract points for this?

What really killed this episode's score was the final ten minutes, where it effectively drops into a modern day primetime drama format for Van Gogh's visit to the 2010 museum. Having an emotional, heart wrenching Lifehouse-ish song over the epilogue of an episode has been the norm for television dramas like "Grey's Anatomy,""E.R.," and "One Tree Hill" for years. I'm not sure if this was Moffat's experimental attempt to "see how the fans like this format," but it's been my understanding that hard core Whovians were outraged by it, myself included. If there's one thing that has no place in an episode of Doctor Who, it's modern day music with lyrics! Thankfully, so far this episode has been the only one to do so, having already seen Series 6/Season32.

It was an OK episode, but as the title implies, it was mainly about a particular character, to the point that the inclusion of a monster made little to no sense at all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Doctor Who - "Cold Blood"

WHOSCALE: 8.5 out of 10

Chris Chibnall continues to pour on the Third Doctor era homage with the conclusion to "The Hungry Earth." Like this season's first two parter, the story utilizes roughly two main locations, in this case being above ground at the drill and the church in the first half, and focusing mainly underground in the Silurian city in this half. Once again the two part format does considerably well - largely due to the fact that with more time to work with - a more elaborate, slower paced story can be fluently developed over the span of the two episodes, instead of choosing between sacrificing depth or rushing an in-depth story through a single episode. That's not to say though, that some two part stories since the revival have still managed to turn out being flops. "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End," penned by former showrunner Russell T. Davies can arguably be the worst two part story of the revived series, mainly because of what he was trying to accomplish. Too many recurring characters and villains all twisted and intertwined into a basic Dalek storyline, with his usual soap subplots tossed in as well.

However in the case of "Cold Blood," Chibnall took the same approach to the second half that Moffat did with "Flesh And Stone." The episode picks up right where we left off in "The Hungry Earth," and once again the episode is chok full of nods to the original series. While Amy and Mo wandered the underground caverns, I couldn't help but be reminded of many a Third Doctor story, where Pertwee was exploring similar caverns.

As a diehard fan of the original series, I have a tendency to point out the little things that most viewers probably don't even notice. One of these little tid bits is the character names. For whatever reason, the original series seldom used common names for the characters in a particular story, whether it they be human or otherwise. The Silurian names stuck out in particular to me, as they were intentionally made to not sound like something you would hear above ground - "Alaya," "Restac," "Eldane," and "Malohkeh." Props for taking to time to be creative, Chibnall.

The story generally follows a universal narrative, without ever deviating for subplots. It only starts to go into a slight downturn right at the end - where once again, Rory dies. If you're still keeping count with me, that's two (2) deaths for Rory so far, and he's only been an official companion for four episodes. With Rory's death enters the usual sobbing, screaming companion scene. It almost as if all of the over-the-top drama was saved until the last ten minutes of the episode, where two episode's worth of drama was released, and thus causing the steady flow of the story to abruptly be disturbed.

There were a few scenes where I felt the CGI backdrops were a bit overdone, namely the one of the "Star Wars clone army" scene of Silurian soldiers. Now, in the Davies era, it would only have been a matter of time before that CGI army would have been marching up to the surface, but thankfully here, the backdrop scene is the only time we have to deal with a CGI army. Even after Restac has started releasing the soldiers, we never see any CGI Silurians, only the real ones.

The ending begs to question a few actions that I'm not quite sure analytical fans such as myself couldn't explain. For one, Moffat had already demonstrated that any object coming into contact with the light beaming from the crack in the wall would be instantly removed from history, yet here The Doctor is able to walk right up to the crack, stick his arm through, grab a piece from the other side and walk away unscathed.

The final scene definitely had be eager to see the rest of the season the first time I saw it, where the object The Doctor grabs from the crack in the wall turns out to be a charred piece of the TARDIS.

Another fantastic story, and tastefully done. At this point, it was clear that Series 5/Season 31 was going to blow the Davies era out of the water as far was traditional Doctor Who was concerned.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Hungry Earth"

WHOSCALE: 9 out of 10

The second two parter for this season was penned by Chris Chibnall, who had previously contributed the Tenth Doctor story, "42."

Under the direction of Moffat, Chibnall is the second writer to have a kind of redemption story since the Davies era.

The idea behind this story was obviously to reintroduce the classic villains, the Silurians. To do that, Chibnall borrowed heavily from the flavor of the Third Doctor era, which was when the Silurians got the most air time.

There were tons of nods to the original series in this episodes, particularly the structure of the episode. It contained all the traditional elements you would have found in a Earth-based Third Doctor story - a mining operation, a small, rural village, and a scarce team of scientists drilling into the Earth's crust. Additionally, Chibnall successfully overcame the issue of avoiding present-day times while still setting the story relatively close to 2010 (in 2020), thus there's no reason to suspect that touch screen technology and present day clothes wouldn't still be the norm.

The plot is poured on thick in the beginning, with strange grass growing in the cemetery, a man swallowed up by the Earth, and empty graves with no visible sign of being disturbed. Although I knew well before this episode aired that it would be a Silurian story, I imagined when watching this time around what it must have been like for someone who hadn't followed production of the season before it aired, with absolutely no clue what this one was about. I expect it was even more of treat for Third Doctor fans than it was for me.

Everything seemed spot on in this episode. The pacing was a bit faster than that of "The Time Of Angels, " but not enough to feel like the producers were having to cram a six episode story into one. The music was sparingly used once again, if not a slight bit more powerful than what was used in "The Time Of Angels."

The Doctor is once again leading the way in this episode, with companions Amy and Rory tagging along as they should, and the two puzzled scientists joining in. Strange for the new series, but Amy was absent for much of this episode, having suffered the same fate as Mo near the beginning. She only appears in a couple of shots then, one of those being from a Silurian viewpoint, and a short scene near the end of the episode where a Silurian surgeon is apparently about to dissect her, having already done so on Mo.

As with most of the episodes from Moffat's debut season, I could find very little that just turned me off about it. If I just had to pick any minuses, it would be the slight over-injection of drama from The Doctor as Amy is pulled underground, the other being the CGI backdrop at the very end, and the ridiculous time discrepancy when The Doctor & company are setting up a security system - they had eight minutes to do, and it's hardly feasibly to accomplish what they did in that time. The "montage" format that is used even further indicates that far more time than eight minutes passed.

The production team took a new approach to the look of the Silurians, which has gotten mixed opinions since the episode aired. Personally, I think they looked fantastic. All mask and costume and no CGI will always win in my book. However, they did seem to fall a bit short on the facial features; the new breed of Silurian retains more human characteristics than their 1970s predecessors. No doubt this was to better smooth the transition for audiences. A sort of "safety measure" so they wouldn't look too far-fetched alien. At any rate, I think the revamp of the Silurians turned out far better than that of the Cybermen.

As with traditional Doctor Who style, the episode ends on a cliffhanger, leading up to the setting of the second part.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Doctor Who - "Amy's Choice"

WHOSCALE: 5 out of 10

This episode was penned by Simon Nye, and was his first contribution to the series. This was perhaps the darkest story since Moffat took over, and the premise was no doubt a good one, but since the episode - as the title implies - revolves chiefly around Amy, it didn't fare so well on the Whoscale.

Once again, we find ourselves in the same hole we were in during the Davies era - a companion-driven story, with the antagonist(s) set as a subplot. That is the number one reason this episode did not score higher. What is the deal with Doctor Who revolving around the companions? Is it so hard to write an entire season where the trio, as a TEAM, discover, encounter, and overcome a situation?

This is something that has and always will bother me about the revived series, and for the life of me I cannot see what could possibly be so appealing about it that such a good writer such as Moffat would chose to continue those trends during his reign. No one can argue that by "The End Of The World" during the Davies era, we had already surmised that the series was largely going to focus on Rose, and when "Father's Day" came along, it was practically an international public announcement.

I can honestly say I had trouble scoring this episode. There were so many elements that would have worked fantastic in terms of classic Doctor Who, but once the episode shifted to more or less having Amy decide between The Doctor or Rory, it just killed it.

Yet another thing that just baffles me about the revived series. Why in God's name does every companion have to be emotionally involved with The Doctor???!! Why is the love triangle a necessity in a science fiction series?! To even entertain the notion of a relationship between The Doctor and one of his companions is to invite elements into the story that can serve no purpose other than to distract the focus of the episode from the main plot line.

The episode's intent to focus on Amy caused a tremendous plot error later in the episode; The Dream Lord was a figment out of THE DOCTOR'S imagination, so why was he so hell bent on singling out Amy?! What does that mean? That the Doctor secretly returns Amy's affection for him, and secretly wants her to choose between himself or Rory?

As my readers already know, I'm extremely anti-shaky cam, and this episode is full of it. I'm almost positive that the shaky cam was explicitly used here to further enhance the feeling of being in a "dream," but as I've said before - it's makes the shot look like it was filmed in a hurry, like the cameraman was in hurry to finish so he could take a piss, or because they were five minutes past lunch time, etc. At the very least, it probably makes some viewers with weaker stomachs sea sick....errr...Tee sick. TEE as in "T" - Television!

The setting was ideal for classic Who - the rural village of upper Leadworth, and the initial plot was good - the idea of a darker side of The Doctor forcing the trio to shift back and forth between to realities, each with inherent dangers, and having them choose one. Normally, a respectable Doctor Who writer would have The Doctor work out a solution to the problem, but to fill the absence of originality is the usual substitute - just have the companion save the day instead.

Rory's death causes Amy to make the choice for all of them, saving the day. Why would The Doctor go along with such reckless behavior? What if she was wrong? There was no LOGICAL reason behind the unnecessary risk they take in the van. I say LOGICAL reason - there IS a reason, it's just not logical. The reason being Amy proving her love for Rory to the viewers. What the f**k?! I don't care if they love each other or not! The TARDIS is freezing over, we're being terrorized by Eknodine-infested pensioners, and we still don't have any safe, logical way of determining which is the dream and which is reality! Eh, logic and safety be damned. Let's throw our own lives out the window as well and HOPE we guessed right. That way we can quickly wrap this episode up. Rory is dead now, so there's no love triangle anymore, so no engine to ooze drama, and no real reason to continue further with this story.

Speaking of Rory's death, get out your chalkboard and ckalkstick, because this episode is the first of numerous future episodes where Rory seems to "die," and is later resurrected.

Yet another "quick fix" to an otherwise grim situation was when The Doctor had got cornered in a freezer at a butcher shop. With angry Eknodines on the other side of the door, how can a Time Lord get out of this rut? Easy. Just set your all-purpose sonic screwdriver to the "cause Eknodines to let you pass by them without even a tap on the wrist by simply shooting out a light bulb above them" setting and you're home free! Just point and click!

I've watched this episode several times since it aired, and I've always liked it, but never really realized how distant it was from original Doctor Who until I sat down earlier tonight and watched it with my review goggles on.

It was a well conceived story, but the companion driven plots were getting beyond old, and the companion saving the day was just plum ridiculous. What makes both of these things such episode killers for me is that NEITHER of them should be in an episode of Doctor Who, if you're going by the rulebook written by Newman, Letts, Holmes, Hinchcliffe, Turner and the rest of the original series production crew. Bottom line is, true Doctor Who fans HATE these kinds of episodes, Mr. Moffat, and they aren't going to start liking them, no matter how cleverly you twist them into a plot. The stories should be antagonist-driven, and should be concluded by the lead role. In this case, it's THE DOCTOR. No matter how you slice it, unless you're going to rename the show, he has, is and forever always will be THE LEAD ROLE. You can't shift another character to the front and still brand it "Doctor Who."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doctor Who - "The Vampires Of Venice"

WHOSCALE: 8 out of 10

The third writer to contribute to this season was Toby Whithouse, who previously penned the Tenth Doctor episode "School Reunion." As a viewer, I can't be certain if it was Whithouse's writing or the executive decisions of Russell T Davies that turned that episode into such a flop, but under the reign of Steven Moffat, Whithouse's contribution to Doctor Who seems to be singing a different tune. Following in the footsteps of Moffat with the title, Whithouse follows the traditional Doctor Who "The ____ of ____" format. As I recall, this episode was aired relatively the same time as the Twilight craze was in full swing, so it was great to have a vampire story that didn't get wrapped up in all the hype caused by those films and books.

Rory Williams joins the TARDIS crew at the start of this one, showing even further evidence that Moffat was playing the opposite card against the Davies era. He may not have intended it to be the opposite of the Mickey/Rose duo, but it certainly resulted that way. Rather than have Rory volunteer to "see what's out there" at the dismay of Amy, Whithouse and Moffat chose to have The Doctor invite Rory along on his travels as companion to Amy, to keep the two of them together and to permanently cut ties with any Doctor/Amy romance possibilities.

The show once again takes advantage of location shooting in Croatia, standing in here of course for 1580 Venice. This makes for a fantastic classic Who feel. By this time, it was impossible to not see the changes Moffat had made with the series, with "The Vampires Of Venice" being the sixth consecutive episode in the season to score no less than a 7 on the Whoscale.

This episode probably would have tied the previous one with a 9 if not for the CGI overload in the final ten minutes. Flumes of clouds come billowing out of the tower, filling the skies with ominous CGI overcast. The CGI used for the vampires in aquatic form was enough for me. Also, a technical oversight was the fact that the skies were covered in thick overcast, yet Amy was able to reflect a narrow beam of sunlight onto Francesco in alien form to destroy him.

The music was a bit more frequent in this one than some of the previous episodes, but there were times when it sounded much like a piece from Dudley Simpson, namely the scene where The Doctor enters the room and glances into a mirror.

Although I approved of Whithouse writing The Doctor as the hero of the hour and not one of his companions, the final scenes got a little ridiculous - The Doctor climbing the steep rooftop of the tower in the rain to open the steeple and flip a toggle switch.

There were a lot of nods to the original series in this one, some subtle, some obvious. An obvious one was The Doctor flashing his out of date library card, with a mug shot of the First Doctor on it. A more subtle one was how The Doctor befriends a Venetian local, Guido. As the episode progresses, Guido's home serves as a temporary meeting place for The Doctor, Amy, Rory and Guido to discuss further action. For some reason, the Fifth Doctor story "The Visitation" comes to mind. Perhaps it's the mention of plague in this episode.

There was some terrific dialogue in this episode, particularly from The Doctor.

It was also nice to be six episodes into the season and not having set foot in downtown London or Cardiff.

Most of the things I didn't like throughout the first 35 minutes were so insignificant and irrelevant that they don't really need mentioning. The main minus was the CGI-fest near the end. That aside, it was an extremely enjoyable episode, and for the most part felt like solid Doctor Who.